A solid warm up before you work out sets you up for success keeping you injury free. But a sloppy warm-up or no warm-up at all can lead to a debilitating muscle tweak or compressed joints. Especially as women struggling with Hashimoto’s, we need our warm-up to wake up our core and stabilize our joints. But what does this look like? There are so many warm ups out there, what’s the right one?!?

An added layer of complexity comes when we have Hashimoto’s. We know three things to be true with a low functioning thyroid. First, its harder to maintain our muscle mass ie it takes more work to to keep that slab of muscle on the bone. Second, our fast twitch muscle fibers turn into slow twitch fibers, meaning we are carrying more postural muscle fibers, which can be seen as lower quality muscle tissue if we want to move dynamically through our world. Lastly, we have slower tendon turn over, short and sweet, recovery takes longer for us ladies with Hashimoto’s.

Knowing these things to be true and clinically seeing women with Hashimoto’s struggle with hyper-mobility, a well strategized warm-up is essential. No joke, how you warm up will make or break your workout and is non-negotiable.

Why is it important to warm up with Hashimoto’s

When we have low muscle mass and hyper-mobile joints, a warm up needs to prime the body before picking up a weight. Typically a warm up at the gym with a trainer will have some foam rolling to random muscles, some leg and arm swings, and touch the toes to “open up the hamstrings”. Pretty nondescript and can give a false sense of being ready to exercise.

Your warm up should include these components:

  1. Connect you to your 360 diaphragmatic belly breath
  2. Wake up your core stability
  3. Prime the body to move in all 3 planes of motion
  4. Activate the brain to move the body on a primal level, like how we moved as babies

This sounds like a lot, but to hit all these components, a warmup can be simple and last 10 minutes with Thyroid Strong. In the long run, this Thyroid Strong warm up will help prevent months of rehab from an unexpected injury.

If breathing is not normalized, no other movement pattern can be.—Karel Lewit

How should I breathe when I work out

To belly breathe, you need to activate the diaphragm, which happens on a subconscious level 25,000 times a day. On the inhale, the central tendon of the diaphragm (which is a thin strong aponeurosis) descends, spreading the lower ribs in all directions. In turn, your transverse Abdominus (TVA), paraspinal muscles, QL’s, and pelvic floor are put on an eccentric load to help maintain intra-abdominal pressure.

In Thyroid Strong, I teach how to breathe down, wide, and into the low back on the inhale for a 360 belly breath. This helps stabilize the core and protect the joints from injury. On the exhale, if you are not pulling a weight, the belly can soften toward the spine and relax. I encourage you not to suck the belly in toward the spine.

But if you are pulling a weight, brace your core on the exhale as if you were going to take a punch. Again, not sucking the belly button towards the spine. The brace of the core should match the weight of the load. So a brace for picking up a 10 lb weight will be much more subtle than a solid “tank of strength” brace for a 155 lb deadlift.

There should be no rib flare and no excessive lift in the rib cage with the inhale. Draw in just enough air, just as much as you need. To prevent injury, especially with loose joints we always start with the breath to get ready to lift weights in Thyroid Strong. Check out below how to create a brace in this “tank of strength” core.

diaphragm breathing

Why Should I Belly Breathe

You need good belly breathing for “functional stability”. Good breathing leads to good mobility, preventing tight muscles and stuck joints. Especially when we are too mobile in the joints for our own good, we need the breath to create a “tank of strength” in our core so that the shoulders and hips can move freely over a solid core.

A good belly breath will allow the ribs to remain “stacked” over the pelvis. The shoulder blades will stay down and wide on the ribs without winging out. The body won’t have the hour-glass shape caused by a weak central core. The spinal erectors, muscles that straighten and rotate the back, will balance intra-abdominal pressure. The result is good core stability and a calm nervous system. Hello ladies, that means less anxiety!

We use this belly breath as babies when we learn to roll over, activating the oblique slings—muscles that help us activate our backs. But there’s a catch: As we get older, we can forget how to breathe this way.

What Does Stressed Out Chest Breathing Do to the Body

Poor breathing habits are rooted in living a stressed lifestyle and constantly in a fight or flight response. This leads to shallow chest breaths and not allowing the full excursion of our diaphragm, the muscle between the lungs and intestines that pumps our breath. If we take this short shallow breath into our exercise and strength training routine, we create ECC (Extension Compression Compensation) in the low back and neck. We can literally compress the facet joints in the spine and trigger muscle spasm in the lumbar erectors.

In fact, poor breathing habits can lead to all sorts of ailments, including headaches, neck pain and tightness, midback tightness, lower back compression, constipation, incontinence, pelvic floor pain, low back pain, and shoulder and hip impingement (from overuse and a lack of stability).

Ladies, I can’t emphasize this enough: Shallow chest breathing can lead to a multitude of problems. I frequently see “hourglass syndrome,” an abnormal muscle tone distribution in the abdominal wall that can lead to creases in the waistline and a lower belly “pooch.”

I also see signs of incorrect stabilization and core activation, with shoulder blades that are hyper adducted, ie too far retracted or pulled together. This can lead to Upper-Crossed Syndrome, which according to the legendary physician and physical therapist Vladimir Janda, is when you have rounded shoulders and your head carries in front of your body and an abnormal hump in the upper back. The tone of the muscles in an Upper-Crossed Syndrome will present as tight upper traps and pectoral muscles along with inhibited deep neck flexors and shoulder stabilizers.

Poor breathing habits can lead to problems with the feet and knees, including “knock knees” aka the knees touch each other while the legs are standing straight. Poor breathing habits can also lead to over-pronated feet. While this is the most stable positioning for the feet to create more support under the torso, it can also lead to bunions and cause incorrect stabilization of the midsection of the body, the chest, and the pelvis. All of this works its way up the kinetic chain and lead to back pain. I hear your head asking, REALLY? Yes, absolutely, all from poor breathing habits!

How do I get my body and brain ready to work out

Simply, move like a baby. When we are born, during the first 2 years of life, our brains are pre-programmed to help our bodies learn movement, coordinating our muscles and joints. While we start out pretty defenseless as cute little sacks of cuddly love, our bodies gain postural stability, core stabilization, and movement.

Babies learn to breathe and stabilize their abdomen, allowing them to lift their heads and roll over. Unless a child has a developmental issue or is pushed to develop too quickly, he or she becomes pretty good at movement and coordination. If you’ve ever crawled around playing with young children or blocked them from climbing up to your countertops, you’ve witnessed this!

Babies do this by breathing down and wide with 360-degree expansion and then bracing their abdomen as they learn their movement patterns. You never see a baby pull their belly button to their spine. You never see a baby pull their shoulder blades together. And you never see a baby over-activate their gluteus medius, the glute muscles on the side of their tushy. So why would we want to train the body to do this in our adult life?

The nervous system helps control human posture, movement, and gait, but as we age, muscles and joints can become destabilized—from injury or overuse—affecting function. That’s when movement becomes compromised. The Thyroid Strong warm up helps “reset” the nervous system, activates the core and stabilizes the joints to eliminate pain.

Thyroid Strong breathing and warm up follows the movement patterns we learned as babies and activates the primal part of the to coordinate all the muscles and joints together. This activation and priming gets the body ready for working out in the simplest and most efficient method.

Thyroid Strong warm up

Thyroid Strong Breathing Exercises

These 3 exercises prime the breathing pump, activate your core, and get your body ready to workout. Then we prime the brain with movements we learned as babies. Then we lift! Here’s a sneak peek into 3 Breathing exercises from Thyroid Strong:

Prone Crocodile Breathing

  • Lie face down with your head resting on the back of your hands.
  • Slowly breathe into your abdomen, towards the front of your ASIS or hip points, breathe your inhale wide. Lastly, breathe your low back towards the sky. This will cause your pelvis to posterior tilt naturally, or there will be a natural rocking of your tailbone down towards your heels.
  • On the exhale, let your belly relax.
  • If you want to take it to the next level, on your exhale keep your brace and your belly full.

6-month Supine Belly Breathing

  • Lie down on your back, knees up at 90 degrees and feet on a chair to help connect the low back to the floor.
  • Inhale and feel your belly move up, out, and wide expanding your abdomen in all directions. Your chest should not move upward toward the sky and your ribs should not flare upward.
  • If this is tricky to find, place your tongue on the roof of your mouth an inch behind your teeth: this helps activate a better diaphragmatic breath.
  • Another trick you can try is to reach one arm down toward your feet and cough, then do the other side. This will help relax the hemi-diaphragm and allow for a better, fuller diaphragmatic breath.

Beast to Bear Belly Breathing

  • Start with hands shoulder width, middle fingers parallel to one another, fingers spread.
  • Make sure to keep your index knuckle rooted down towards the floor, this helps activate serratus anterior, a shoulder protractor.
  • Knees are underneath your hips and feet, and slightly narrower than hips.
  • Take an inhale, breathe down into the lower abdomen, wide into the waistline, and into the low back. Keep this brace and lift the knees off the floor without changing the low back (i.e. don’t ab crunch.)
  • Keep your brace as you push your hips toward the sky and push the floor away with your hands without changing the shape of your back. This creates great upper and lower body integration, helping to keep the diaphragm parallel to the pelvic floor. Patients and clients with pelvic floor dysfunction, this is a great place to work this position and breathe in and out to create an eccentric expansion on the pelvic floor with the hips above the shoulders.
  • Return the knees to hovering an inch above the floor and press back again.
  • Knees stay bent when pressing the hips back. This is not a down dog where the knees go straight and there’s a potential to arch the back and overstretch the hamstrings. This is a place to work good core and shoulder stability, and mobility of the hips.

A peek into a variation of the Thyroid Strong warm up that sneaks in some core work. This sequence promotes solid belly breathing, activates the core, and if done right, primes the body before we lift weights.

Try it out and let me know how your body feels afterward.

In Good Health,

Dr Emily Kiberd