Hashimoto’s can make you exhausted, and then the weight piles on. Unfortunately, exercise advice that doctors typically give to Hashimoto’s patients tends to make things worse. Not only would it make you more tired, but it can also contribute to a flare and worsen the joint hypermobility many women with autoimmune diseases have.
If you want to hear about exercises for Hashimoto’s that work, you’ve come to the right place. As a chiropractic physician and movement specialist, I’ve healed my Hashimoto’s and helped thousands of women do the same using functional medicine and exercise.
Although my approach may seem to be the complete opposite of mainstream advice, it’s evidence-based and effective. In this article, I’m sharing my three favorite strength moves for women with Hashimotos. Then, I’ll explain my approach and how it works better than the conventional approach.
How to Exercise with Hashimoto’s: 3 Sample Exercise Routines
1. 6-MONTH SUPINE
The supine exercises all involve starting on your back with your legs bent. From this position, you can try one of the following variations. Pick one that feels challenging but not impossible to do with good form, then progress over the course of about six months.
Variation 1 (easiest): Allowing your legs to fall gently to stay on the ground
Variation 2: Raising your knees up, with your knees just slightly above your hips (no weight)
Variation 3: Raising your knees up, with your knees just slightly above your hips , and holding a weight towards the sky
Variation 4 (hardest): The same position as above, while alternating toe taps to the floor aka dead bug
2. FOREARM PLANK
Starting facedown with your legs closed and extended straight behind you, prop yourself up on your toes and your elbows with your forearm flat against the floor. If it helps, you can clasp your hands together.
- Focus on tightening your core muscles and keeping your body in a straight line from your head to your feet. Activate your glute muscles by tucking your tailbone and reaching out through your heels. This will help engage the lower core muscles.
- Hold this position for 3-5 breaths, or as long as you can. Work your way up to 12-15 breaths in 3-5 breath increments.
- If you struggle to do the plank at first, begin by placing your knees on the ground instead of your feet until you build up enough back strength to straighten your legs. If your knees hurt, try placing a yoga mat or towels under your knees. Alternatively, try another variation by placing your hands on a chair or bench in an elevated plank.
A deadlift is a similar movement to a hip hinge but with the use of a kettlebell. Start with a weight that feels challenging but not so heavy that you can’t maintain a flat back. I like to start with 50 lbs minimum (2 x 12 kg kettlebells).
Many women are reluctant to pick up such big weights or kettlebells, especially when they first start. But after training thousands of women, I know you’re already strong enough to lift 50 lbs, and the weight isn’t inherently dangerous. You want to start with perfect form, lifting with slow and controlled movement and spending time on the basics before moving on to ballistic moves like kettlebell swings. If you’re tempted to start lighter, just remember to use enough weight to contract your hamstrings or feel some tension in the back of your legs. With good form and a solid breath and brace, you will not injure yourself.
Stand with your feet outer hip-width apart and toes turned out to the 11 and 1 o’clock positions. Your back should be flat from start to finish, and your shoulders should remain pulled back and packed. Keeping the kettlebell between your legs, your hips and knees should move together to transfer the kettlebell from the ground to the upper thigh. Slowly return to your start position, maintaining a straight back.
These muscle-building exercises are a great place to start. They will stimulate muscle protein synthesis, kickstart your metabolism, and help your body to regulate your hormones. These foundation-forming exercises are the basis of a stronger, less fatigued body. For example, the deadlift strengthens the hamstrings. The hamstring strength reduces knee hypermobility and has good carryover to your other activities, such as picking up your children or grandchildren.
The 3 Biggest Workout Mistakes You May Be Making with Hashimoto's
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Hashimoto’s and Exercise
If you suffer from Hashimoto’s, you’ll understand the level of exhaustion that comes with it. You may also have less exercise tolerance, and too intense workouts can trigger flares. So, the thought of exercising may seem counterproductive, but the truth is, the right exercises will make you feel better in the long run.
Consistent exercise can improve thyroid hormone levels over a few months . Also, the right amount and intensity of exercise can normalize the excessive inflammatory responses that lead to autoimmunity . Exercise can significantly boost your quality of life if you have an autoimmune condition.
Now, let’s look at the right and the wrong way to exercise if you have Hashimoto’s.
Mainstream Advice for Exercising with Hashimoto’s
Conventional medicine does not offer a solution or “cure” for Hashimoto’s. However, many doctors tend to just prescribe thyroid hormone replacement. But when combined with functional medicine, exercise, and nutrition, you can significantly reduce symptoms or even put the disease into remission.
Many of my patients and clients came to me having been advised to focus on low-impact exercises that focus on cardio and gentle workouts like yoga and pilates. While doctors know that exercise is beneficial, they advise doing very little to prevent exercise-induced flare-ups.
Why Cardio and Stretching Could Be Counterproductive
- Repetitive movements like running and cycling demand a lot from the joints. These workouts also increase cortisol, which inhibits thyroid hormone functions. Cortisol can also contribute to fat gain, and more muscle and bone mass losses.
- Based on my clinical observation, stretching-type exercises like yoga tend to worsen hypermobility, worsening joint pain.
Overall, focusing on cardio and stretching can make things worse.
The Thyroid Strong Approach and My Clinical Experience
Women with Hashimoto’s need strong, stable muscles that can stabilize joints and help maintain metabolism. However, if you’re not careful with the volume and intensity, like following programs for people who don’t have Hashimoto’s, overtraining can lead to days of exhaustion or flares.
You can build muscles, strength, and stability within these limitations like thousands of Thyroid Strong women have. Here are the principles of Thyroid Strong:
- Use the right selections of strength-building compound functional movements.
- Prevent injuries by using the right forms, warmup, and recovery training.
- Breath and brace correctly to stack and stabilize your spine and prevent injuries.
- Avoid overtraining by resting enough between sets and limiting your workouts to 20-25 minutes.
- Correctly address pain with correct posture, movement, recovery, and neurological priming. For example, dynamic neuromuscular stabilization can help retrain your movements like how we originally moved as babies. I also provide 15-minute movement sequences to neurologically prime your body for stability and mobility in the right places.
- Holistically address other aspects of Hashimoto’s, such as diet, environmental exposure, mind-body connection, and more.
Your exercises should feel like you’re pushing yourself, but your workouts should leave you energized and not drained. Look at exercise as a stimulus for your body to adapt, strengthen, and grow, rather than a way to burn calories. Everyone starts at a different place in their own journey, and you’ll be amazed at how your body progresses over time.
The 3 Biggest Workout Mistakes You May Be Making with Hashimoto's
How Often Should I Work Out with Hashimoto’s?
Exercising three to four times a week should be standard, and you should commit 20-30 minutes to each workout. I know this doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re doing compound functional exercises, you aren’t wasting any time. The result will be a stronger body to function in your everyday life. Regular exercise will make you stronger and can aid in daily tasks. This allows you to be able to function well physically in your day-to-day life.
Here are three Thyroid Strong moves (or exercises) to help you create a foundation for a stronger body and a more confident self.
The bottom line is, Hashimoto’s can be debilitating at the best of times, and the last thing a fatigued body or brain wants to think about is exercise. But the stronger your body is, the better it will function in your daily life as you get stronger. Like with anything else, it’s the first few weeks that are the most difficult. After a while, you’ll be looking forward to your workouts because you’ll feel stronger and more accomplished. Day by day, you’ll feel stronger and more confident.
Having been through it myself, I understand that starting with exercise can be daunting, especially if you’re in pain and extreme fatigue from Hashimoto’s. You may also fear exercise will make you worse. This is why I created Thyroid Strong, an evidence-based exercise program for Hashimoto’s that’s been tested on thousands of women.
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4 Delitala, A. P., Scuteri, A. and Doria, C. (2020) Thyroid Hormone Diseases and Osteoporosis. J. Clin. Med. Res. 9.