The full contact twist, the way I am going to teach it you, is an exercise that will give you extremely strong abdominal muscles as well as general full body strength. With this exercise you can’t help but feel the core muscles work.
You see, when you do crunches or sit-ups, you have to do countless reps, until you fatigue the muscles and finally start feeling them working. This is not the case with this drill. Here you feel the abs right away and this is part of the reason I like the full contact twist so much.
What is the Full Contact Twist
I first learned about this exercise through Pavel Tsatsouline’s book Bulletproof Abs around seven years ago. In tghe book Tsatsouline, a former special soviet special forces instructor teaches the right way to get rock hard, combat-ready abdominal muscles that are as strong as they look. So according to the book, after learning how to contract and strengthen the core muscles, we are introduced to an explosive twisting abdominal/oblique drill that mimicked and reinforced movements used in explosive sports such as boxing (hence the name Full Contact Twist).
Given its explosive nature however, the exercise was more useful for advanced trainees or even professional fighters, than regular people that just want to be strong and look good. So this excellent exercise was doomed to be overlooked by many people who would otherwise greatly benefit from it.
Explosive Full Contact Twist Vs. Heavy Full Contact Twist
Because of Pavel’s book, most people that actually do it, are executing the exercise as described above – explosively. As I stated however, explosive exercises are not good for a beginner.
I was introduced to another, more practical variation of the full contact twist by my colleague Milko Georgiev, a visionary who introduced modern personal training in Bulgaria. Because we need to first learn proper form and build strength with controlled exercises, he simply switched the nature of the drill. So this explosive (meaning moving at fast speed) exercise became a slow, strength – based one. Enter the heavy full contact twist.
To do the exercise, you need to hedge one end of a barbell in a corner or under something that keeps it from slipping. Then load the other end of the barbell with a weight plate, squat down, grab it with both hands and then stand up and extend your arms forward.
Now the movement starts – twist from side, moving the bar in an outward arc until it touches your thigh. Rotate the hips and torso as well as the trailing foot in the direction that the bar goes. Watch this instructional video below so it becomes clearer and then take a look at the technique tips below.
[Here I’m demonstrating the full contact twist with just 15kg on the barbell. This weight is a good start if you consider yourself strong, but haven’t tried this drill. If you are new to training, don’t hesitate to start with an empty bar for a set or two and gradually increase the load.]
- Stay in the hollow position. This means basically to keep tension on the abs and never ever hyper-extend your lower back.
- Keep your shoulders down. For strength and safety pack the shoulders down and tighten the lats – the muscles of your armpits.
- Grab the bar near the top. Place the hands on top of each other
- Twist the hips. You need to rotate the whole body, leading with the hips.
- Twist the rear leg. The trailing leg rotates as well. This mimics how boxers rotate their rear leg when doing a punch in order to transfer the power.
- Flex the abs hard. As well as maintaining the hollow position, you will need to actively engage or flex (meaning tighten) the abs as if preparing for a punch.
- Squeeze the bar as hard as you can. This little detail adds significant strength to you lifts. Plus, the exercise is impossible to do at heavier weights unless you involve you whole body in it.
- Lock the arms and do NOT change the position of the elbow joint.
For a healthy woman a 15kg full contact twist is an excellent goal to shoot for in the long run. For a man, these are the strength milestones:
- Gold level 45kg for 5 reps per side with perfect form
- Silver level 30kg for 5 reps per side with perfect form
- Bronze level 15kg for 5 reps per side with perfect form
As we’ve already discussed, to quote Pavel, “strength is a skill.” So in order to improve at something it makes sense to practice it often. do the heavy full contact twist 2-3 times per week for 3 heavy sets of five reps. Execute with perfect form and gradually add weight. Do the drill last thing in the workout if you are doing other demanding exercises like barbell squats and barbell deadlifts.
[Here you can see one of our gym’s strongest athletes, Vasko, demonstrating elite levels of relative strength worth of a Gold Level status with 45kg on the full contact twist.]
On an unrelated note, I want to introduce you to a great blog I recently found. Craig Avera is an actor who lives in Hollywood and enjoys the fine Cali weather most of the year (damn you Craig lol!). On his site he shares how he achieved and maintains a body that looks good on film. The thing I like about his blog, and I hope he does more of it, is that he shares practical tips that actually come from his own experience – specific workout routines and recipe tips.