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The Only 5 Ab Exercises You'll Ever Need

05/07/2015 12:07 pm ET | Updated May 07, 2016

By K. Aleisha Fetters, DETAILS

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(photos: Getty)

Take a look around your gym: There's no end to the array of abs exercises that guys are churning out. Their bodies are contorted. Their foreheads are drenched. But their abs? Meh.

See, when it really comes down to it, all you really need are five staple moves to sculpt your core, says Chris Jordan, director of exercise physiology at the Human Performance Institute and creator of the Johnson & Johnson Official 7 Minute Workout App. Unfortunately, most guys eschew the basics for flashier moves. But no amount of flashiness can make up for effectiveness, he says. Here are the five abs exercises that should be the bedrock of every man's core-sculpting routine.

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1. Abdominal Crunch
There's something to be said for going back to basics. The traditional crunch is truly what six-packs are made of, Jordan says. That's because it hammers the rectus abdominus, which lies right under your skin and makes up the coveted six-pack.

Instructions: Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands lightly on both sides of your head, keeping your elbows in. Press the small of your back into the floor, exhale, and contract your abs to lift your shoulders about four inches off of the floor. Pause, then lower your shoulders slowly to start. Keep the movement slow and controlled. Don't use momentum.

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2. Bicycle Crunch
This crunch variation is key for strengthening both the internal and external obliques, which run on the sides of your torso, help you score those sexy V lines, and are responsible for helping you twist and bend from side to side, he says.

Instructions: Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands lightly on both sides of your head, keeping your elbows in. Press the small of your back into the floor, exhale, and contract your abs to lift your shoulders about four inches off of the floor. Simultaneously move your right elbow and left knee toward each other, while extending your right leg straight in front of you. Use your core to pull your right knee back up and complete the move on the other side.

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3. Plank
A great core is about more than the muscles you can see at a glance. Your transverse abdominus, for instance, lies deep in your core and stabilizes the spine to improve performance in workouts, sports, and everything you do, Jordan says. Plus, it acts a sort of man girdle, keeping your core tight and preventing beer bellies.

Instructions: Get in a push-up position. Bend your elbows and lower yourself down to shift your weight onto your forearms. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels. Keeping your head in a neutral position, tighten your core (pretend someone is about to punch you in the gut), and hold the position. Breathe normally, focusing on not letting your hips rise or sag.

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4. Side Plank
The variation of the good old plank homes in on transverse abdominus and internal obliques, helping your spine stay stable not just from front to back but also from side to side, he says. Best of all, by working your internal obliques, you can help fend off those infamous love handles.

Instructions: Lie on the right side of your body with your legs straight. Place your right forearm under your shoulder and press through your arm so that your hip lifts and your body forms a straight, diagonal line from head to heels. Lightly rest your left hand on your hip. Brace your core and hold. Breathe normally, focusing on not letting your hips rise or sag.

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5. Reverse Plank
When people are hitting up plank variations, this is the one they most often miss, Jordan says. That's to their own detriment. The reverse plank homes in on the middle and lower back, which are critical to keeping your core stable and spine erect. After all, what good is a six-pack if you're slouched over?

Instructions: Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and your palms flat on the floor, directly below your shoulders. Press into your palms to lift your hips so that your body forms a straight, diagonal line from head to heels. Keep your neck neutral.

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