Belly of the Beast

by Johnny Pain

A strong midsection is crucial component of an overall beastly physique capable of imposing the will of its inhabitant on the world however it is seen fit.

Training like a man, with heavy weights and intense conditioning is a strong start towards a strong, hard abdominal wall. Heavy squats, Deadlifts, and Presses will build strong abs on their own but this post will highlight three of my all-time favorite exercises for training the abs directly, a practice which I definitely do condone.

There’s no shortage of advice on how to train the old abs available out there. A quick Google search of “Ab training” yields about 42,600,000 results. This means that people certainly want to know the best methods for getting the job done.

While many of those Googlers represent the ill-informed majority with the erroneous belief that they can crunch away belly fat, there are plenty who are more in the know in terms of intelligent training that are after the most efficient and efficacious movements for training the abs directly. StrengthVillain readers, unless brand new on the scene, are going to represent the latter group of informed trainee.

Here are three of my favorites. Start by adding one of the movements to your workouts each session, looking to progress when and where possible.


The Cable Crunch

This one requires a cable stack with a high pulley to which a rope handle can be attached. Set the weight to a moderate load (this will take some figuring out for those unfamiliar with this movement) kneel on the ground a few feet back from the base of the machine, and grasp the rope handle. Keeping the hips stationary, and moving only the torso, stretch the chest up high, tightening the lower back. From that position, crunch the abdominals hard pulling the weight down with fixed arms (no pulling). Hold the contraction at the bottom of the movement for a three count, flexing the abdominals as if you are trying to get them to pop. Once you’ve held the three count, return to the top position slowly resisting the weight.

Do these for two sets of 8-12 reps.


The Hanging Knee Raise


Hang from a bar, or use stirrups for the upper arms (as shown). Keeping the body motionless except for the legs, lift the knees high up towards the chest, again flexing the abs as hard as humanly possible and holding for a three count. Note that these are performed differently than the hanging knee raises featured in my conditioning workouts in that they are executed very slowly and deliberately with a tremendous focus on the contraction of the abs.

Do these for two sets of 10-12 reps. Increase the difficulty over time by adding ankle weights.


The Decline Board Twisting Crunch

Note: (not shown) After crunching to one knee, you would return to the start position before crunching to the opposite knee.

This one is not to be confused with the more rapid “Rocky-esque” version of this movement. This guy is to be performed ultra strict with our recurring theme of intense contraction. Set the decline bench or board to about a forty-five degree decline. Sit upright on the bench so that your torso is perpendicular to the board. From that position, moving only “from the ribs up”, as in keeping the hips still and lower back relatively stationary, twist and crunch so that your right elbow heads towards your left knee. Hold the hard contraction in the oblique for a three count, release slowly back to the start, and repeat on the other side. A rep performed to each knee counts as one repetition.

Do two sets of ten of these. You’ll be surprised how long a set actually takes you to complete if you’re properly contracting, holding, and resisting instead of relaxing.

Try these out and let me know how you like them over on the forum.


Johnny Pain is the man behind as well as the East Coast’s notorious Greyskull Barbell Club and several other ventures. He is the author of several books on subjects pertaining to strength and conditioning. He can be found comically entertaining questions on his Q and A forum at or can be reached for consultations, training seminars, or speaking engagements at

Also, you can follow him on Twitter: @thejohnnypain



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