Does Waist Training Work? Here's What the Experts Think
- Waist training is the controversial practice of wearing a cincher to “train” your waist into looking slimmer.
- Wearing a waist trainer for a prolonged period of time may cause harmful side effects such as core weakening and poor posture.
- Although waist trainers may be useful in some cases, experts say they are not a substitute for exercise and diet control.
For hundreds of years, society has considered an hourglass female body type desirable. Old paintings depict the women of high society wearing corsets to attain that slim-in-the-middle figure. Corset use was mainstream for a long time, then declined in popularity during the early- to mid-1900s.
Based on the same concept as the Victorian-era corset, and aided by endorsements from celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Jessica Alba, modern waist training is making a comeback into the spotlight. However, the jury is still out on whether it is a safe and effective practice.
What Is It and How Does It Work?
Waist training is the practice of wearing a corset-like compressing garment (a waist trainer or cincher) for a number of hours daily in order to slim the abdomen and define the inward curve of the waist, achieving the coveted hourglass figure.
Waist cinchers are typically worn under your regular clothes and are made of a flexible yet strong material like latex, nylon, or spandex. They may have steel or heavy-duty plastic reinforcement rods.
In theory, cinchers reshape the body by placing extra stress on the abdominal core muscles, making them work harder during exercise. However, there is no scientific evidence that this is actually what happens.
Much like sauna suits, some waist trainers supposedly increase heat production, making the wearer sweat more while working out.
With more extreme levels of compression, the wearer’s floating ribs (the two lowermost pairs of ribs) may be pushed upwards, exaggerating the effect. If you’re thinking that doesn’t sound very healthy—you’re right, it isn’t.
Benefits of Waist Training
Aside from the obvious slimming effect, whether temporary or permanent, waist training cinchers can give you back support and improve your posture. Some users say they are more likely to remember to sit upright after undergoing waist training.
Another indirect benefit is that cinchers make you eat less. While wearing it, the cincher compresses your abdomen, reducing the available space for your stomach to expand after a meal.
Special medical corsets are sometimes used to correct spine deformities and immobilize the back after trauma or surgery. In a 2012 clinical study, people suffering from chronic low back pain who wore corsets for 6 months experienced an improvement in their pain, as well as an increase in back muscle endurance.
Waist trainers or postpartum girdles may also be useful for people suffering from diastasis recti (separation of abdominal muscles) following pregnancy.
“There are definite benefits to using them when needed. I had an over three finger wide diastasis recti; the waist trainer is what’s helping me to reduce the gap without surgery,” says Johane Filemon, a registered dietitian nutritionist.
Do Waist Trainers Work?
There is no simple answer to this question. While some online reviewers swear by the effects waist training had on their bodies, others are less enthusiastic. It doesn’t help that the experts are divided on it. We’ll break it down for you and let you come to your own conclusions. For the complete picture be sure to check the next section on potential dangers.
- Do they make you look slimmer?
Yes. Just like a regular corset, wearing a waist trainer of appropriate measurements will compress your midsection, making you appear thinner. As soon as you take it off though, it’s back to normal.
- Do they make you lose weight?
Maybe. You might be less inclined to overeat while wearing a cincher as it would be somewhat uncomfortable, which can help you stick to a strict diet. The sauna-suit-like effect can make you sweat more, but any weight you lose due to this is just water weight; it does not break down fat.
- Can they actually reshape your body?
Probably not— at least not without prolonged exposure to levels of compression extreme enough to change the shape of your ribcage, making your waist appear thinner.
There is currently no scientific evidence that reasonable waist training can make any lasting alterations in your body shape that cannot be explained by diet and exercise, nor is it directly responsible for any fat loss.
Wearing a waist trainer for a prolonged period of time may cause the following side effects.
- Bad posture
Cinchers, particularly steel-boned ones, can mechanically support your back and create an artificially improved posture while wearing it.
However, if the cincher is doing all the work, the back muscles become less actively engaged in keeping the back erect. Over time, this may lead to core muscle weakening and a poorer posture.
- Trouble breathing
While wearing a tight waist trainer, the lower portion of your lungs becomes compressed, reducing the amount of air you can breathe in and out. This may only be mildly uncomfortable at rest, but it can also make it significantly harder to breathe and impair your ability to exercise.
High levels of compression may cause rib fractures and permanent limitation of lung volume after prolonged use.
- Heat buildup
Our bodies naturally lose heat via perspiration (sweating). Some waist trainers are not designed with this in mind, so they significantly decrease the body surface area that is in contact with the external environment and able to lose heat.
Heat buildup, along with the breathing difficulty caused by compression, can make the user feel dizzy or even faint.
- Damage to internal organs
Compressing the abdomen can exacerbate problems like indigestion and acid reflux (heartburn), and cut off blood supply to vital internal organs.
Over time this compression can force your internal organs (liver, stomach, intestines, kidneys, lungs, etc.) into abnormal positions, and may even cause permanent damage to them.
“All it does is compress the internal organs into an unnatural configuration. Nothing positive can come of that and I advise people against doing it,” says 19-time powerlifting world champion Robert Herbst, adding, “It’s much better to diet and exercise properly to create a sculpted waist.”
Types of Waist Trainers
While all waist trainers are based on the same concept, differences in design and build material may guide your choice if you’re looking to buy one.
They are relatively flexible and often made without or with little boning. These are generally more convenient to use but the nonporous latex may cause excessive heat buildup if worn while exercising. Another drawback is that latex has a habit of wrinkling, possibly making it visible under your clothes.
Corset Waist Trainers
They are more closely related to the traditional corset. Often incorporating heavy-duty fabric and steel boning, these are relatively inflexible. The material is more breathable so it doesn’t cause as much heat buildup.
Most latex and rubber cinchers have a hook-and-eye or tape fastening mechanism, while corsets often have traditional back laces.
How Much Does it Cost?
Waist trainers can cost anywhere from $10 to $100 or more, with plenty of decent models costing under $40. Amazon alone has thousands of models, so be sure to read reviews and check the measurements carefully before buying.
Alternatives to Waist Training
“The best way to get a smaller waist is through diet and exercise,” says Jeff Miller, an Albany, NY, certified personal trainer with twenty years of experience in the fitness industry. Even manufacturers of waist trainers recognize that they’re unlikely to yield long-term benefits without exercise and diet control.
If you are looking for something that gets quicker results, CoolSculpting is a non-surgical, non-invasive procedure that can get rid of localized pockets of fat by subjecting them to low temperatures. Check out Zwivel’s Complete Guide to CoolSculpting to learn more about this procedure.
Other non-invasive fat removal treatments that utilize radio frequencies, ultrasound, and lasers are covered here, in this Zwivel article.
Waist training corsets and other shapewear are not magic bullets that will drop your waist size by a couple of inches with minimal effort. Following a healthy diet and exercising regularly are essential if you want to achieve any meaningful weight loss.
However, waist training cinchers are not completely without merit. Wearing one occasionally to help you look your best should be fine, as well as is using one for medical indications as instructed by your doctor. But prolonged use could have a host of harmful effects and few, if any, real benefits.
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