3 Ways to Make "The Twist" Work

3 Ways to Make “The Twist” Work for You

Remember “The Twist”,  the dance that Chubby Checker popularized back in the early 60’s? It was quite the sensation for several years, and persists to this day, often as a fun interlude to other dance moves.

To underscore this point, I would like to share with you an excerpt from a Wikipedia article describing “The Twist” (probably from Time magazine): “The upper body sways forward and backward and the hips and shoulders twirl erotically, while the arms thrust in, out, up and down with the piston like motions of baffled bird keepers fighting off a flock of attack blue jays.”

Not sure if they truly appreciated the finer points here, but another description speaks more to using proper twisting form to make the most of this dance: “The hips, torso, and legs rotate on the balls of the feet as a single unit, with the arms staying more or less stationary.”

OK, so how do we leverage this into something useful for us in our daily lives (which includes exercising or working out)? SPOILER ALERT: This will probably not be as much fun as doing “The Twist”, BUT it may be less painful!

Twisting in Our Daily Lives

Let’s take a few minutes to consider how we use twisting as we go about our days. We reach into the back seat of our car, turn to greet someone, lift and twist (more on that later), participate in yoga class, play golf, or even do some fast walking. It’s everywhere!

I would like to give you three separate ways to make it all feel better for you, as well as one cautionary tale.

One of the keys is linked to part of the description above, where it says that “The Twist” involves keeping the hips, torso, and legs rotating as a single unit. The key here is that the low back does not twist, but stays in line with the torso.

As you may be aware, a classic way to get back problems is to bend over, lift something, and twist at the same time. One of the big things when training people how to lift properly involves keeping the back hinged, not rounded, and moving the body as a unit when changing direction.

Similarly, if you are going to be twisting, it is to your benefit to learn to do so using your rib cage and shoulders, and not your low back. Your low back is designed to rotate only slightly. Any more than that can be a recipe for disaster.

One more thing. To maximize safety when twisting, it’s a great idea to prompt yourself to do so while you maintain your best posture. Extending your spine and putting your shoulders in good alignment will insure that you have the best shot at keeping the important areas (low back, shoulder joint) stable while you move.

Good Movement and Posture

In general, there are three ways to practice and reinforce good movement and posture:

  • There’s what is called “active range of motion”, where you do the desired move, with repetition.
  • There’s stretching to enhance range of motion.
  • And, there’s strengthening the motion by adding some weight to it. This has the added benefit of having to use some other muscles to stabilize you as do the move (they will stabilize for unweighted moves as well, just not as much).

Examples: (see graphics below)

  1. Active range of motion. Sit tall on a chair, bench, or stability ball. Keep your head and shoulders back and in good alignment with each other. Put both arms straight ahead of you, and then open out one arm to the side while keeping your head facing forward. Bring it back to the front, and then open the other arm out to the other side. Repeat this sequence 10 times. KEY: Practice doing this without moving your low back or hips as you move your upper body.
  2. Stretch. Lay on a mat or towel. With or without hanging on to a stability ball, stretch both arms overhead. Twist your lower body to one side, keeping your feet stacked and knees together. Hold this position for 8 breaths before doing the same thing on the other side. KEY: The twist should come from your rib cage, not your low back.
  3. Strengthen. Using a stability ball, bench, or chair, place one hand on it. Bend over using a hinge at your hip so that you do not round your back. Extend your spine and open your shoulders so that they are not rounded. Using a dumbbell in the other hand, lift the weight up as far as you can by bending your elbow. Repeat 10 times and then do the other side. KEY: Any twisting movement that comes from lifting the weight comes from the rib cage area, not the low back.

Here’s a word of caution. According to spine guru, Dr. Stuart McGill, using the torso twist machine often found in gyms is dangerous. As tested by him, the rotation there puts a huge amount of compressive forces on the spine, all the way through the range of motion. Stay away!

Instead, use these exercises as a guide to practice staying away from twisting your low back, as well as remembering to use good posture as you exercise and as you go about your day.


© 2017-2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.

Active Range of Motion - Sitting on Stability Ball
Active Range of Motion
Stretching Twist with Stability Ball
Stretching Twist
Weighted Twist with Stability Ball
Weighted Twist
Design for Fitness - Personal Assessment

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