Ladies! You’ve been diagnosed with a thyroid disease, specifically Hashimoto’s. At first the diagnosis felt devastating, confusing, and in some cases, a relief. Now you have a name to describe what you’re feeling day in and day out, which is symptoms of fatigue, weight gain, and depression. What you’ve noticed is you’re probably falling into one of two groups.
The first group is you just don’t work out because when you do, you don’t feel good, so you stopped. When you tried to exercise, you felt like you were hit by a bus or you were so tired afterward, you slept 14 hours a night for days. You declared working out is just not for me especially when you’re continuing to gain weight no matter how much time you put in to your exercise routine.
Or you fall into the second group. You just push through because you’re supposed to work out five days a week, but you know it’s not working. HITT class followed by pilates and then spinning the next morning, the list goes on. The harder you push yourself, the more weight you gain and you’re totally burnt out. You feel the “stress” of exercise so much more than you used to and recovery afterward takes a full week. But heck, work hard, play hard right? You need the sweat sesh to de-stress and how else are you supposed to try to lose weight? So what do you do?
You’re not crazy. What you’re feeling is absolutely right. I get it because I’ve seen so many women like you and it’s because you need to be exercising differently when you have a thyroid disease. Once you understand how to work out smarter, not necessarily harder, you’re going to find when you do exercise, you feel better, not worse.
What workout should I not do with Hashimoto’s?
The common exercise recommendation for women with Hashimoto’s include walk, do some cardio, stretch, go to yoga and pilates. This is ok when you are in Hashi flare up and burning extra energy just talking is exhausting. But I know when I did these with Hashimoto’s, I was a hot mess. I felt worse afterwards, gained more weight, and my joints ached to no end. This is the common response I hear from women with Hashimoto’s.
I remember the days of doing “double spin” classes for a straight 90 minutes in the morning and then going to a yoga class in the evening to unwind from work. But those days were long gone after I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s. I could barely walk to the end of my block without feeling winding, heavy and uninspired by everything. I was turning into a blob the more I tried to work out, what one could call “skinny fat.”
I needed to work out smarter, not harder. I let go of the cardio even though the group spin classes in a dark sweaty room made me feel in synch with a pack of New Yorkers without ever having to say a word to anyone. I let go of going deep into triangle pose and yoga all together because my back and SI joints would throb for days after class.
What workout should I do with Hashimoto’s?
I returned to my kettlebell strength training sessions I had done in the past but with a twist. I no longer worked out so hard I would want to puke after. I did fewer reps, heavier weight, functional movements, and no more than 20-30 minutes in the gym. No bicep curls or tricep dips or ab crunches. Every lift was full body compound movements, not body parts like I used to do way back when on my back/bicep days or chest/ tricep days. I warmed up mimicking how we moved as babies and every strength move was perfect breath, brace and form.
This strength training along with the guidance of a functional medicine doctor was magic. The weight came off, the brain dog lifted, and I started to get definition. Bye bye to the skinny fat dough look. But I had to start with the basics and execute with great form, otherwise I would pull a muscle. And when do we earn amazing form while lifting weights? Not in high school, or college, and not really in any group fitness class. I learned from some great trainers and then applied what they taught me and tweaked it for my Hashimoto’s body, so I wouldn’t injure myself or push myself into a Hashi flare up.
I’ve been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and miss working out
Let me tell you a story of my first meeting with Adriana. She used to be a runner, obsessed with training for marathons, and it made her heart sing. She loved the freedom of putting on her shoes and just hitting the road. Simply, running cleared her mind, and was her only form of exercise. It ticked all her health boxes, until it didn’t.
She started to feel more tired after her runs, she gained 25 pounds over a six month period and her hair was falling out. She notice injuries would pop up without any trauma and all the joints in her body ached. She gave up running but felt like she had no outlet to destress from her high pressure job.
When Adriana came to me, she wanted to get out of pain but didn’t know how. She desperately wanted to run again, but she had written that off since it caused her so much pain in her knees and inflammation in her Achilles tendons. But the pain would come and go, and travel around the body. It wasn’t consistent and visiting multiple physical therapists didn’t resolve her issues. She finally got a diagnosis of a low functioning thyroid, Hashimoto’s, after being an advocate of her own health and asking for more comprehensive thyroid lab work. I collaborated with her functional medicine doctor to get her on the right path of building muscle to help support her thyroid health.
I took her through these simple steps:
- Retrained her breathing to help destress and relieve anxiety
- Showed her how to brace to give her stellar core strength when she picked up a weight
- Taught her a warm up to prime the brain for working out, like how we moved as babies
- Developed a strength training program and cued her on optimal form
- Programmed full body movements with kettlebells and taught her how to recognize proper form in her lifts
She felt strong in her body, the weight started to come off, and her confidence returned. Her knees no longer ached and she started to put on healthy muscle. She returned to what made her heart sing, running, but not training 5-6 days a week. She ran twice a week and lifted heavy for 20-30 minutes 3 times a week. Simple, smart, and well executed. A game changer with being out of pain and returning to what she loved.
I’ve been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and I’m not into working out
Meet Pamela. She had been diagnosed with hypothyroidism 20 years ago and had been taking medication ever since. She did yoga 3 days a week and pilates 2 times a week. When she bent over she palmed the floor with her hands. She loved stretching but felt fragile, and she had pain that moved around her body. She came to me with nagging hip pain that wouldn’t go away with any amount of stretching, foam rolling, or pigeon pose. Her knees hyper-extended and her kneecaps pointed towards one another. She skinny with little muscle definition or mass.
She wanted her hip pain to disappear but didn’t know how. She was trying everything in her tool box, but those strategies of releasing the tight achy muscles wasn’t working.
I took her through these simple steps:
- Took her off of all stretching, yoga, and pilates
- Taught her how to breath from her belly to activate her core
- Showed her how to brace her core so she could pick up a weight and not hurt her hip
- Got her stacked aka ribs over pelvis to “turn on” her overstretched hamstrings
- Put her on a basic strength training program of planks, deadlifts, lunges, and squats to build her muscle mass and get her strong. This helped combat her hyper-mobility.
Build the basics first. What are the basics? Breathing into your belly and not sucking in. Bracing when you pick up something heavy and have the brace of your core match what you are picking up. For example the brace will be different picking up a piece of paper versus your kiddo. Lastly, get stacked, ie ribs over pelvis, no sway back, and ears over shoulders over hips. The basic may feel like you are not pushing yourself hard enough but should give you the foundation to not injure yourself and set you up to lift heavier down the road. Why would you want to lift heavier? To maintain that muscle, get toned, lose weight, and feel better than ever in your body.
Want to learn more? Check out Thyroid Strong, the exercise program if you have Hashimoto’s. I teach you how to exercise right with thyroid disease. I’ve had to do it for myself to heal my own body and for the thousands of women that have come through my clinic, like Adriana and Pamela, one on one in Manhattan, New York.
In Good Health,
Dr Emily Kiberd