Get Ready for Move-the-Needle Monday

Are you ready for week two of your Dream Big challenge? Let’s get serious about holding a plank, eating straight from the food pyramid, and meditating, starting now.

Yay! You’re back! If you started an April challenge (or two) with us last week and you’re ready for more, you’ve come to the right place. If this is your first time here…welcome! You’re among family. Your first step is to click here to get a refresher on what we started last week. It’s totally up to you if you want to start (or redo) week one, or jump into week two with us now.

Either way, you are stepping up and challenging yourself—and for that we give you a standing ovation. Because it’s what life is all about: trying your hardest each day to be a little better than you were the day before.
This week, we want you to put your all into your chosen challenge (and we’ll be right there with you). Let's share our progress with each other! Snap a selfie of your best plank form or share a healthy-whole-grain swap you made this week and tag #DreamBigGetThere. To help, follow along with the plans below that aim to keep you committed to the big picture while helping you break it down into bite-size daily chunks. You got this!

Dream Big: Hold a Plank for Two Minutes Straight

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Week 2: Test Your Strength

Here’s the science: Form is key, particularly if you’re coming back from an injury or have any kind of lower back issues. A 2020 study from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that when the abdominal hollowing method (AHM)—the activation and pulling in of the navel—is employed in a traditional plank position, it proved to be an effective strategy for increasing overall abdominal activity, particularly in the internal and external oblique musculature. Translation: Small form adjustments, such as the AHM, can have major body benefits, so continue to refine your plank’s positioning and make the necessary form adjustments to hold one correctly. (Don’t beat yourself up if you’re still trying to get it just right—sometimes even trainers find it tough to do a good one without a mirror to guide them.)

Move-the-Needle-Monday: Now that you’ve mastered holding 30 seconds of planking—either on your knees or up in full-on front plank—it’s time to get serious and work your way up to a minute’s worth of this “hard-core” exercise with good form. You can add an extra challenge with something like the above-described ab hollowing, or you can split each session between a full plank and a modified knee plank if you want to increase your time without forgoing proper posture.

The plan: Holly Roser, a certified personal trainer based in San Mateo, CA, suggests continuing with the same three-to-five-times per week schedule as last week for maximal neuromusculoskeletal benefits. But, this week add a second 30-second set to the mix. Try this: On Monday, hold a plank for 30 seconds, wait 30 seconds, and then hold another 30 second plank. On Wednesday, hold a plank for 30 seconds, wait 20 seconds and then hold another 30 second plank. On Friday, hold a plank for 30 seconds, wait 10 seconds and then hold another 30 second plank. By week’s end, see if you can hold for an uninterrupted 60 seconds in a single set—and, get ready, your own strength just might surprise you!

Top tip: Don’t focus on the clock, instead, keep your focus on refining your form as you continue to make functional tweaks. “Think about trying to close your armpits shut and pulling in your elbows, which should then be pulled back towards your toes,” says Abby Bales, D.P.T., owner of Reform Physical Therapy in New York City. (Try mimicking this movement while sitting or standing, and you’ll see precisely what she means.)

Dream Big: Eat the Entire Food Pyramid

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Week 2: Get Half of Your Carbs from Whole Grains

Here’s the science: Did you know that what you eat might help your brain function better? Research suggests that the gut microbiome (that’s the colony of good bacteria living inside your digestive system) communicates with your brain. And according to a multi-study review in the journal Nutrition Reviews, these chatty bacteria can affect emotional behavior and other brain systems. Specifically, studies have shown a strong link between the gut microbiome and stress-related disorders, such as anxiety and depression. Some foods are known gut-helpers: Behold! Whole grains contain fiber and phytonutrients, which promote the growth of that good gut bacteria, says Tiffany Ricci, a registered dietician nutritionist and co-owner of Fueling Life Nutrition, a nutrition-consulting and coaching company, in Billings, MT.

We’re not talking about regular pasta and white rice here, but rather the nutty, brown goodness found in the likes of 100% whole-grain breads, cereals, oatmeal, and brown rice. “Fiber is a good ‘workout’ for your gut,” Ricci says. “The good bacteria wants to eat fiber. They don’t want McDonald’s.” So, what counts as a “whole grain,” and how can we make sure we’re getting enough? That, my friends, leads us to our goal for week two.

Move-the-Needle Monday: Our target this week: Make sure half of all the grains you eat are whole grains. It’s likely you’re already getting your recommended grains each day—most of us carb-lovers do—but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says only about half of all Americans actually hit the recommendation of making half of those amounts whole grains. How much should we be getting? If you’re a woman under 50, you’ll want 3 oz. of your 6 oz. total daily intake of grains to come from things like whole-grain bread and pastas. For women 51 and over, target 4 oz. of your total 8 oz. of grains to be whole grain. For men ages 19 to 30, you’ll want 4 oz. of your total 8 oz. grain intake to be whole grain. For men ages 31 to 50, whole grains should total 3.5 oz. out of your 7 oz. total grain intake. And, for men 51 and older, try for 3 oz. of whole grains from your daily intake of 6 oz. of grains per day.

An ounce equals 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereal. You can find more serving ideas at the USDA website.

The plan: This week, one day at a time, start substituting whole grains where you would normally have refined grains. (Think: pastries, pastas, cereals, breads, chips, and crackers made with white flour.)

  • Monday: For breakfast, if you’d normally have a bowl of Rice Krispies, substitute a bowl of oatmeal, but be sure to top it the way you would your cereal, with a sliced banana or handful of berries, so it satisfies your need for routine. Try wholewheat or buckwheat pancake mix (just one 4.5-inch pancake counts as a whole ounce of whole grains!).

  • Tuesday: For lunch, throw a cup of cooked barley or quinoa into your lunchtime salads. Substitute 100% whole grain and whole-wheat bread for your usual sandwich bread. This is key: The package must say 100% whole grain. There are plenty of less-than-healthful imposters out there masquerading as whole grains. Watch out!

  • Wednesday: For snacks, try a whole-grain English muffin with peanut butter, or search the cracker aisle at your grocery store for some whole-grain alternatives. Read the labels. Whole grains should be the first ingredient listed on the box. Sneaky serving: Three cups of popped popcorn counts as a 1-oz. serving of whole grains.

  • Thursday: For dinner, try subbing your usual spaghetti or penne with a whole-grain version. If the texture is too, well, cardboard-like, try cooking it a couple minutes longer than the box recommends to make it softer, Ricci suggests, or swap in whole-wheat couscous, which isn’t quite as dense as bigger pasta shapes.

  • Friday: For dessert, it’s time to get creative. Two squares of this Indian pudding recipe constitute an entire serving of whole grains—and it’s dessert! Or, try these mini fruit pizzas. A single serving of this recipe counts for two servings of whole grains. Bonus: They’re topped with nutrient-packed fresh fruit and they are super cute.

Top tip: There’s a reason we tend to choose these refined grains over their whole grain counterparts. “Refined grains have a great 'mouth feel,'” Ricci says, “so you can’t swap brown rice or pasta for white and expect it to taste the same. It doesn’t.” Be realistic about your new goals and give yourself some grace for an occasional indulgence. Ricci tells her clients to remind themselves: “Treat treats as treats and only have them occasionally.”

Dream Big: Meditate Daily

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Week 2: Try Out Different Styles

Here’s the science: While you may expect to have to wait awhile to feel results from your meditation sessions, there’s at least one benefit that can come pretty much instantly: a reduction in stress. A study by Michigan Technological University found that a single 60-minute session was all it took to see changes in blood pressure and anxiety. Now, a full hour of meditation might be a bit much to jump into (and we’re not asking you to!) but it just goes to show that it doesn’t take months of practicing mindfulness to see benefits.

Move-the-Needle Monday: This week your goal is to explore different kinds of mediation to find the methods that feel right to you. After all, there are many ways to get in the moment. “There are so many options from sitting meditation, walking meditation, mantra meditation, body scans, gratitude meditation,” says meditation expert Liv Bowser, the founder of Liberate, an L.A.-based mental fitness studio. Whatever you try, don’t worry about being perfect at any one. “There’s no way to fail!” Bowser insists.

The plan: Select four types of meditation you’d like to try and give them a go this week. For example on Monday, you might start with a meditative writing exercise, where you simply write free-form to the prompt, “In this moment,...” On Wednesday you can attempt a guided session with an app like Insight Timer. Then, on Friday, attempt a mantra-based practice in which you repeat (10, 20, however many times it takes for you to believe it) an affirmation like, “I am living light.” On Saturday try a 15-minute nature-bathing walk in which you take in the elements of nature and hyper-focus on your breath as you enjoy time outdoors. Pay attention to how you feel after each type—different methods speak to different people and finding your fit can be the key to success.

Top tip: Don’t meditate hungry! “In the beginning, you want to make sure you’re in a personal state where you’re not going to need anything for a few minutes, including a breakfast sandwich!” says Bowser. So, make sure your stomach isn’t growling and you feel hydrated. “The fewer things to distract you while you’re learning, the better.”

And there you have it: The blueprint for another week of living well, eating right, and making your body stronger. These challenges take effort, but they should also bring joy as you see small improvements. Remember, it's your life. It's up to you to make the most of it.

Contributors: Rachel Jacoby Zoldan, Danielle Gamiz, Beth Shapouri