9 Tips for Exercising with Hashimoto’s
I know, it’s easy to get discouraged when it seems like exercise makes you even more tired, results in days after days of recovery, or seems like it isn’t leading to any results. I’ve been there – and many of my clients have, too.
If you can relate, what’s negatively impacting you isn’t simply the exercise (it’s important to exercise with Hashimoto’s!) – it’s the way you’re doing it. With Hashimoto’s, it’s important to remember we struggle to produce an adequate amount of thyroid hormones. The activities we choose to participate in directly impact the production of those key hormones, which, in turn, impacts our body’s ability to properly function. The secret to exercising with Hashimoto’s (and enjoying it!) is a deep understanding of what helps and hinders our natural hormone production and creating a regimen around it.
With this approach, we work with the body – not against it – by avoiding activities which deplete our thyroid hormones and instead looking for the things to strengthen our body and give it a chance to heal.
Read on to learn my 9 must-have tips for exercising with Hashimoto’s so you can workout in a supportive, effective, and sustainable way.
1.) Exercise is good for Hashimotos’ – just listen to your body!
Physical activity is important for people with Hashimoto’s because – when done properly – it lowers inflammation in the body, improves the immune system, and prevents further progression of the disease.
But the balance between reaching your goals and overtraining is delicate when working out with Hashimoto’s. So, listen to your body and make any changes to your workout routine slowly. For example, if you want to add time to your weightlifting routine, add one new set each session, or maybe an extra five more minutes. If you’d like to move from having two rest days in between workouts to one, incorporate the new workout slowly – then see how your body responds. Recovery from exercise is essential with Hashimoto’s.
If you have specific goals in mind – whether they be personal or for sport – it can be tough to listen to your body when you’re wanting to compete, excel, and see faster results. However, by ignoring signs of overtraining, you run the risk of setting yourself back even further than if you would have just listened and taken a break or laid off the extra workout.
Because you have Hashimoto’s, your body gives you unique signals to let you know what’s working – and what isn’t. For example, your body is asking for a change if:
- You feel persistently exhausted, especially after training sessions
- You feel swollen or inflamed, especially in your joints
- Your immune system is lowered and you get sick frequently
- Your performance and capabilities drop
- You experience brain fog, dizziness, or migraines
Alternatively, your body is being receptive to exercise if:
- You feel a little sore afterwards, but stronger overall
- You notice an increase in muscle mass and definition
- Your energy increases
- You get sick less often
- Your performance and capabilities are improving steadily
- Your mind is clear
- You experience less pain and inflammation
You can still compete, exercise, and make progress while listening to and making adjustments from these signals, and by doing so you’ll benefit from sustainable and rewarding results.
2.) Be careful of repetitive motion exercises.
With Hashimoto’s, repetitive motion exercises can pose a challenge. For example, high repetition/low weight lifting exercises or repetitive movements like cycling demand high levels of cortisol – which in turn lowers thyroid hormones. This is why it’s common for women with Hashimoto’s to experience crushing exhaustion and soreness after these types of exercise: their already low thyroid hormones have dwindled down even further, and the body is struggling to stabilize.
Naturally, those of us with Hashimoto’s should try to steer away from things depleting thyroid hormones and move towards things supporting or increasing thyroid hormone production. Additionally, with Hashimoto’s, we suffer from low muscle mass, so we can’t afford to create overuse injuries on the muscles we’ve got. Overuse aside, repetitive motion exercises don’t actually help our need to build muscle mass, which helps us burn fat, get strong, and beat Hashimoto’s fatigue.
This isn’t to say you must retire your running shoes or ditch the bike. Just monitor your body closely if your sport of choice calls for repetitive movements, take care not to overtrain, and make sure you don’t sacrifice proper form as you get fatigued. And, always supplement your cardio workouts with strength training.
3.) Recover after exercising with Hashimoto’s and don’t overtrain.
Exercising with Hashimoto’s requires a delicate balance between creating some stress in the body to make progress towards your goals and not over-stressing the body leaving you depleted and struggling to adequately recover.
Although you may feel invigorated after a workout and think, “Hey, I could totally go another hour!” – don’t. You may pay for it later as your body attempts to replenish itself of the thyroid hormones it already struggles to create.
Over-exercising is known to do more harm than good in general, but especially in those of us with Hashimoto’s. If you’re exercising a lot and experiencing constant tiredness, decreased strength and stamina, bad sleep, delayed recovery, aching in your joints and limbs, injuries, and frequent illness it’s not normal. In fact, it’s your body telling you something. Listen.
It’s your body letting you know you need recovery – and perhaps the exercise you’re doing isn’t what’s best for your body. Now don’t get me wrong: a little soreness after incorporating a new exercise or increasing the weight in your weight lifting program is normal, but it shouldn’t take you out or be so persistent. Remember, with Hashimoto’s you must consider your body’s thyroid and how the activities you do affect it. By overtraining, you aren’t giving your body enough time to replenish the things it already struggles to create. So, do yourself a favor and work with your body – not against it – by finding a routine with adequate recovery time while still pursuing your goals.
Be patient and shoot for slow and steady progress when exercising with Hashimoto’s.
4.) Don’t overstretch but do cool-down (actively!).
Another common mistake Hashimoto’s ladies make is over-stretching. In my clinical experience, we commonly struggle with hyper-mobility and tissue laxity. Therefore, stretching excessively and doing yoga may not be the best for people with Hashimoto’s, since our bodies need joint support and more stability from strong, stable muscles – not lengthened ones. Tight muscles communicate weakness in another area of the body, so the trick is to discover the root cause of stiffness instead of reaching for the quick and temporary fix through stretching. When we overstretch, we lose stability and don’t give our muscles the chance to adequately support and stabilize our joints. This leaves us feeling unbalanced and ungrounded because our joints don’t have the support system they need to keep us strong and upright. Learn more about hyper-mobility here.
Although many people choose to have a long, passive stretch session during their warm-ups and cool-downs – which may or may not be accompanied by mindless IG scrolling – try an active cool-down instead. You can find my favorite active cool-down stretches (and the main reasons never to skip them) in this blog post. Some benefits of a solid cool-down include faster recovery, immune system support, and a settled heart rate, all especially important for those of us with Hashimoto’s. The way we recover is essential to being able to stick with an exercise routine. If we don’t cool-down properly, muscle soreness and tightness could get in the way of our plans and hinder our ability to stay strong and energized throughout the day.
So, don’t skip your cool-down and don’t overstretch. Be intentional about the way you prepare your body for a workout and the way you bring it back to normalcy afterward. Your efforts will pay off in the form of more enjoyable workouts, better results, prevented injury, and an increase in energy, strength, and overall vitality. Yes, please!
5.) Be consistent.
Hashimoto’s is linked to decreased insulin sensitivity. Because aerobic and strength-training exercises are shown to improve insulin sensitivity, it’s critical to exercise with Hashimoto’s regularly.
As you listen to your body and discover your perfect routine, be consistent. Try new workouts for a week or two, track your results, and see how you feel. Don’t get discouraged during your time of exploration – simply do what works for you and leave the rest behind. But, make sure to stay consistent in your pursuit to be active and healthy. Whether it looks like brisk walks and twenty minutes of weights 3 times a week, or you’re trying a revised High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) routine, make physical activity a part of your life in whatever form it takes. And please note: Consistency doesn’t mean it has to take on an excessive frequency or duration. Pick a doable schedule – like 3x a week to start – and stick to it. Planning to work out 7 days a week for two hours each day probably isn’t the best way to start if you want to be consistent, so make sure you commit to something you’ll actually do.
I know it can be hard to muster up the inspiration and energy to head to the gym when you’re feeling tired and weak. However, your body needs to move to heal. Your muscles need strengthening and exercise lowers inflammation, which will actually lessen any aches and pains you may have. By getting the blood flowing, you support your system’s natural ability to heal itself. You strengthen your body’s immune system and support its ability to create and deliver the thyroid hormones it needs to thrive.
And, again, track your results and how you feel consistently. Give new workout routines a fair chance, but listen to your body if anything is feeling like a hard “no”. Soon enough, you’ll find your favorite exercises and feel the effects they have on your body. Exercising will be a necessary part of your day allowing you some much-needed “me” time to de-stress, focus on yourself, and improve your health and strength.
6.) Take long rest breaks.
People exercising with Hashimoto’s need longer rest breaks, plain and simple. Meaning? Longer rest breaks between workout sessions and longer rest breaks during weightlifting sessions. This may mean a two-a-day workout schedule may not be the best fit. It may also mean certain strictly-timed weightlifting programs aren’t for you. Keep in mind: When exercising with Hashimoto’s, tendon turnover is slower, so breaks are critical for recovery – otherwise, burnout, soreness, and fatigue can occur.
So, enjoy your rest breaks! Change the song in between sets, take a deep breath, and hydrate. Plan your next move. Track your progress. Make every workout count, especially now because you know you can actually have fewer, more effective workout sessions to get the results you want.
Now, if you’re doing light weight exercises and hundreds of repetitions – or long, repetitive movements for exercise – you may be wondering where these long rest breaks are supposed to fit into your workout regimen.
After each set of a hundred reps? Every 10 miles?
Which brings me to my next tip…
7.) Repeat after me: Heavy weight, low repetitions.
I have seen women with Hashimoto’s thrive with a high weight, low repetition weight lifting protocol – myself included. It covers all the bases: it helps increase strength and muscle mass, improves joint support, helps get rid of excess weight, supports hormone balance, and provides opportunities between tough, high-weight sets for recovery breaks. With low repetitions – somewhere around 5 or less – you have the opportunity to lift heavier weight and push your body towards your goals. Paired with long rest breaks, a high weight/low rep weight lifting plan (about 3 times a week) allows you to prevent burnout, overuse, and injury due to fatigue.
During rest breaks, catch your breath, shake it out, and know you’re allowing your body the time it needs to catch up its tendon turnover and recover before your next set. Take deep, slow, full-bellied breaths and check back in with your body.
And don’t worry about getting “too bulky” with a heavy-weight regimen. Too many women use this as an excuse to avoid the weight section at the gym, and it’s unfortunate because our bodies definitely need the multitude of benefits weight training provides, including the metabolism boost, immunity jump-start, and building of quality muscle mass. Besides, the more muscle you have, the more effectively your body burns fat, so if you increase your muscle mass you, by default, shed fat faster.
So, don’t be afraid to go heavy and cut down your number of reps.
I’ve found this to be the best way to exercise with Hashimoto’s disease.
9.) Be careful who you listen to!
It’s easy to find all kinds of workouts and training advice online and in health clubs. And, as you’ll quickly find out, everyone has a different “perfect” routine. The thing is, most of the advice you’ll find out there isn’t specific to people with Hashimoto’s and can actually be dangerous if followed by someone whose body has unique needs and considerations.
So, be careful who you listen to. Runners may advise specific mileage schedules, weightlifters might swear by two-a-days, and trainers might encourage you to “push through” limitations – which could very well be your body communicating more than just a healthy level of discomfort.
If you’re working with a trainer or coach, make sure they’re knowledgeable about Hashimoto’s and know what modifications you require of your exercise routine. Ask if they know the dangers of strenuous exercise with Hashimoto’s and see if they can give you some specific pointers on the best exercises for Hashimoto’s disease.
And, again, don’t give up! I know the struggle to find a workout routine that works with Hashimoto’s can seem impossible when you’re waking up exhausted, struggling to lose weight, feeling sore, suffering a Hashi flare-up, or all of the above. But it isn’t.
You can feel good, be strong, and build a body you’re proud of. You can live pain-free, lessen your symptoms, and hack your Hashimoto’s so you can show up for yourself, your family, and your kids.
So, follow these 9 tips to get a jump-start on your health and fitness goals.
You got this.
If you’re interested in learning more about exercising with Hashimoto’s, download my free How to Beat Fatigue and Exercise with Hashimoto’s guide.
In Good Health,
Dr. Emily Kiberd