If you struggle with Hashimoto’s, then you know. It feels isolating and never-ending. Your friends don’t understand why you don’t go out anymore and your family rolls their eyes when you mention your whole body hurts ALL THE TIME.
If you’ve struggled, you know there’s weight gain no matter how much you work out, fatigue you can barely get out of bed, and brain fog you forgot what you were saying. If you think you have these symptoms but haven’t officially been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, here’s an easy to understand break down of this auto-immune condition.
Don’t forget! It’s important to get properly diagnosed and get the proper blood work done before you start to tackle how to workout and dial in your exercise routine with this condition. If you don’t get a proper diagnosis, your exercise attempts could send you down a Hashi flare up and into a deeper hole of fatigue and worsening of your symptoms.
What Is Hashimoto’s?
Hashimoto’s, simply put, is when your immune system attacks your thyroid, leading to hypothyroidism aka a sluggish underactive thyroid. Your thyroid is responsible for almost every function in the body, producing and regulating your hormones and for ensuring your metabolism is in working order.
Hashimoto’s signs and symptoms include the following:
- Extreme fatigue, like can barely get out of bed
- Brain fog, a literal haze trying to remember what you were about to say
- Difficulty bouncing back after a workout that involves strenuous activity
- Weight gain, no matter how much you work out or reduce your calories
- Muscle and joint pain that usually moves around or affects the whole body
- Feeling cold all the time
- Feeling down or depressed
Want a full list of symptoms? Get my free downloadable PDF here.
Overlooked Hypermobility Symptoms
Many of these symptoms overlap with other autoimmune diseases, and there is one symptom that I overlooked and rarely talked about when it comes to Hashimoto’s. In fact, the research hasn’t been done on this but clinically I have found this in women I’ve worked with struggling with Hashimoto’s.
The symptom is Hypermobility. Feeling double-jointed, like you have loose joints, feeling unstable in your body, maybe even repeated sprains or strains with no real big traumatic event.
This tissue laxity and hypermobility can be picked up by your provider with a Beighton Hypermobility Test. There are five moves, four passive bilateral and one active unilateral that checks your knee extension, elbow extension, pinky and thumb flexibility, and the ability to bend forward and place your hands flat on the floor. If you score more than a 9, you have loose connective tissue and joint hypermobility.
Why is hypermobility important?
This tissue laxity, feeling of being double-jointed, and hypermobility makes working out harder and increases the possibility of injuring yourself even under a small amount of stress or under a small amount of load.
For Women with hypermobility and Hashimoto’s, strength training can be difficult but it is essential. How do I know? I had to figure it out on my own body during my Hashimoto flare ups. The common recommendations I hear for women with Hashimoto’s who also struggle with hypermobility is “walk 20 minutes” and low impact exercises like yoga, pilates, barre, and swimming. While this is a good start, this doesn’t help build muscle mass and stabilize the joints. In fact, doing yoga and stretching that can happen in pilates can cause even more joint pain and muscle aches from over stretching the loose joints. Instead of stretching, it’s important to strength train to stabilize the joints and build muscle to help protect the joints from future injury.
A physical side effect of having tissue laxity that I’ve seen in the women I’ve worked with Hashimoto’s is the development of bunions on both big toes. The tissue laxity and hypermobility in the feet will cause the feet to pronate or roll in as a result of an unstable core and joints. This rolling in of the feet is caused by the body’s desire to stabilize itself and puts more pressure on the inside of the feet causing a growth of a bunion. The added pressure on the inner edges of the feet works its way up the kinetic chain leading to low back pain, an anterior tilted pelvis, sway back, mid back hump, and neck pain with tension headaches.
Functional Medicine is a Good Start
Functional medicine is a first line of defense when it comes to Hashimoto’s because there many underlying possible causes like parasites, food intolerances, heavy metals overload, and mold exposure. Exploring these possible contributors is an important step in your recovery, and dealing with these root causes in conjunction with treating your connective tissue is essential.
Where to start your workout with Hashimoto’s
Strength training is your friend. Strength training is not just body weight exercises and it doesn’t involve bands. Strength training looks like pick up a weight, own your form, put it down and doing it again. Heavier weight than you think, low reps, and long rest breaks in between sets. I have women with Hashimoto’s work up to 20 minutes a session 2 days a week. That’s right, working up to that frequency to flare up your Hashimoto’s or burn yourself out.
I created, Thyroid Strong, an online workout and rehab program for women with Hashimoto’s based on my own experience and working with women with Hashimoto’s.
In Thyroid Strong, we work up to a strength training routine that starts at 1-2 times a week at 20 minutes each session, that will only have you doing compound movements. Although you may feel like stretching, pilates, or yoga would be a good idea, these are not recommended for those struggling with hypermobility and tissue laxity.
The Essential 7
The compound movements in Thyroid Strong are based off of my Essential 7 which are the 7 essential exercises that are practically related to everyday movements that require strength, and that can be started using your body weight but we work into using weights when you’ve built up your strength. Notice there are no fluffy exercises listed below like bicep curls and tricep dips, and only focus on the movements that we need to own to be better at life.
The Essential 7 are:
- Squats: For when you are picking up toys off the floor, you drop your keys, or need to pick up your kiddo.
- Push: For when you are faced with a heavy door, or are putting luggage into an overhead compartment.
- Pull: Walking an unruly dog, or pulling items from your trunk.
- Carry: We are often carrying items – groceries, small people, computer bags.
- Hinge: For when you need to move furniture or lift a heavy box.
- Lunge: For the stairs, or getting ready to catch your toddler jumping off furniture.
- Anti-rotate. Our body naturally rotates when we walk, swing a golf club or play tennis. But if we don’t do this everyday from sitting all day then we can get stuck. This is one of the best ways to train the oblique muscles of the core.
My Own Experience With Hashimoto’s
What had lead me to investigate the best possible plan for those with Hashimoto’s is my own experience. About 18 months after my son was born, I was a shadow of myself. Monday’s felt just like a Friday after a long work week, I felt inflamed and sore, and I just couldn’t seem to lose weight.
What I discovered through my functional medicine doctor was that I had picked up a parasite while in Bali. Through bloodwork, it was discovered that I additionally had some heavy metal toxicity, mold toxicity and food intolerances.
Hashimoto’s & Diet
I have since removed gluten, dairy, sugar, and high histamine foods (look these up!) from my diet. This elimination process has helped to clear up much of the eczema I had developed, and I was feeling about 50% better than I had initially reported.
After much research and changing how I was working out, I began strength training smarter, not my natural tendency of going balls to the wall. I recommend strength training with Thyroid Strong because cardio and stretching can leave those with Hashimoto’s feeling beat up for days – naturally causing us to feel like working out is not the answer.
When I focused on compound movements I began to feel improvements in my own stability and strength. Initially my knees were hyperextending causing me to feel unstable, anxious, and ungrounded. The unstable joints and tissue laxity was causing anxiety because I was feeling so unstable in my body. My own workouts started 2 times a week, and I gradually moved up to 3 times a week.
Overtraining is Not The Solution
Overtraining through cardio, you can push your body into adrenal insufficiency. Lifting heavy weights, but low reps (typically 5 reps of perfect form) and longer breaks than normal in between are where you will find the best results.
Thyroid Strong focuses on a 3 part approach for every weight lifting move:
- 360 Breath – breathing down, wide, and sending your breath into the low back to create a solid strong core
- Braced – referring to the ‘tank of strength’ in the core where on the exhale you maintain the pressure in the belly to be able to pick up a weight
- Stacked – the need of good core stability in which your ribs remain parallel over your pelvis, along with a straight line from your ‘ears over shoulders over hips’.
The End Result
The goal of Thyroid Strong is to provide a real solution for every woman to beat the fatigue and weight gain of Hashimoto’s, so they can live their best life and be present for the people that need them the most. With feeling strong and confident in your body, maybe you’ll ask for that raise, get out of a not so great relationship, or remember all those special moments with our kiddos. I reversed my Hashimoto’s with these tools and I know you can too.
In Good Health,
Dr Emily Kiberd