In this work, commercial AISI 304 stainless steel rods were subjected to cyclic forward/reverse torsion (CFRT) treatments at low-speed and high-speed torsion at room temperature. Microstructures in the core and surface layers of the CFRT-treated samples were systematically characterized. Results show that the CFRT treatment can introduce martensite phase on the surface of the rods via strain-induced martensitic transformation. High-speed twisting is more effective in inducing martensite in the surface layer compared to low-speed twisting. During the stretching process, the overall strain-hardening behavior of the gradient material is related to the content of its gradient defects. Higher gradient martensite content results in a higher surface hardness of the material, but less overall tensile properties. The effect of twisting speed on torsion behavior and the strain-hardening mechanisms in tensile of the gradient structured steels was also addressed.