Although the popularity of waist trainers has gained momentum in the past few years, the idea of cinching one’s waist is nothing new. It goes back several centuries – but back then, they just called it a corset (followed later by the girdle), and it was a widely-accepted technique that many women of royalty and higher socio-economic status would employ to enhance their body shape.
It was so widely accepted, that corsets eventually became a fashion statement in and of themselves, with women wearing them in public on top of their tightly-fitted dresses. These extremely restrictive and stiff garments were lined with metal supports, which women would sport for several hours or even all day, laced up around the waist as tightly as possible, pushing and squeezing everything in with as much pressure as they could withstand.
Fast forward a couple of hundred years and countless scientific and medical advancements, and you’d think we’d have learned a thing or two. Then again, maybe not. All it really takes is a few well-known celebrities or social media icons to post a photo wearing waist trainer and congratulations – you’ve got yourself a new trend, albeit, a dangerous one that could cause many people potentially serious consequences, as they try to chase that cartoonish-tiny waist with as little work as possible.
I wrote this article for few reasons. For starters, as a coach of many young, impressionable clients seeking the ultimate physique, I’ve had to deal with my fair share of people (yes, many men are into it now, too) begging to jump on the waist-trainer craze. They only see their small-waisted idols online, looking cute and happy wearing them. They don’t always take a minute to think about what it’s doing to your body on the inside and the potential downside or health risks. Second, I think there are way too many “trainers” nowadays that are pushing silly fad trends like this to gain attention and followers, and not enough real, qualified experts standing up to speak on them and shed some light on the foolishness of it all. If I’ve got to be one of the few to talk some sense into people, I’m all for it.
In true diplomatic fashion, I suppose it’s only fair to hear their side of the story. So, without spending too much time on this, here are a few of the purported claims being touted by the advocates of waist trainers.
Waist Trainers: The Claims
Slimming. “Reduce waist circumference by 1 to 3 inches, instantly.” You essentially have to pull your stomach in just to get most waist trainers on. Once it’s finally on, you can somewhat relax and the device will keep things squished in for you.
Sweat more. “Increase perspiration and lose weight.” The way many are using a waist trainer now is to wear them during exercise. They strap it on, cinch it in and hit that treadmill. Pressed firmly against the skin, sure – you’ll sweat a little more.
Reduce calorie consumption. “Wearing a waist trainer makes you want to eat less.” Sure, when you artificially squish your stomach in from the outside, you may not want to pack back those big portions anymore. The only question is – what happens when you finally take the waist trainer off? Your stomach is then allowed to return to normal size and function and your brain will likely recognize that you owe it some calories. Hello, nighttime binge eating!
Activate the core. “Reminds you to engage the core and abdominal muscles.” By wearing something that’s pulling in your stomach, you may be tempted to do some actual tightening yourself. Or, you could just go to the gym and actually train your core.
Lower back support. “Encourages proper posture.” Advocates of waist training suggest that users will receive some level of low back support and poster control while wearing them. I can’t argue much with that, but is it really strengthening anything? Or is actually making things weaker because its mostly achieved through a passive mechanism and very little active, self-generated muscle contractions.
I’ll leave it up to you to look up any objective scientific data to support some of these alleged benefits. I’ll admit that if you just read a list like this, it does have some appeal. Get a smaller waistline instantly and lose more weight all while providing posture support and core activation? Sign me up! Or wait, maybe not. Like any other health behaviour that you plan to make a regular habit, the key is to weigh the pros and cons before fully committing to it. Next up, I’ll get into a few of the lesser-talked about, but real consequences of waist trainers.
Don’t Waste Your Time
It’s the wrong type of weight loss. OK, sure: You might sweat a little more if you strap a tightly fitting, non-breathable material around your waist when you do your cardio, but it’s just a little extra water. To think that waist trainers will enhance fat loss in any way is just crazy talk. In fact, the restrictive nature of waist trainers could disrupt blood flow, and maximizing blood flow during training is one of the key components of optimal fat oxidation. Most of us should be more concerned with body composition, not simply scale weight. What good is losing a few extra pounds of water weight if the amount of fat on your body remains the same?
Stress and strain on internal organs. Now I want to be clear that this one doesn’t apply to all types of waist trainers and is somewhat dependant on how tight the user decides to cinch it. It should be noted however that there have been many reported cases of waist trainers putting so much restrictive pressure on internal organs like the liver, kidney and intestines that people have ended up in the emergency department over it. This should come as no surprise really. Any time you’re applying a significant amount of pressure and squishing something in an unnatural way, restricting blood flow and disrupting vital functions – nothing good can come of that.
Can cause digestive issues. As a direct result of the pressure that’s placed on the stomach and compressional forces on the organs, you may start to notice some digestive problems such as acid reflux, constipation, bloating, gas and discomfort. Just another obvious side effect here. How can you expect your body to do its job properly when you’ve been squeezing the life out of it for hours each day?
Urinary complications. One of the other organs that can receive some of the compressional forces of a waist trainer is the bladder. This pressure and strain can lead to sub-optimal function and might have you doubling your washroom visits because the bladder has to empty much sooner then it normally would.
Disrupts breathing. When waist trainers are worn too tight, for an extended duration, things can shift around inside your body, up…down….to the side…wherever – anywhere to escape the cinching of the waist trainer. And by ‘things’ I mean your internal organs! It’s been documented via hospital visits that they can end up in places the human body didn’t intend for, resulting in putting pressure and strain on the lungs, diaphragm and breathing muscles. Funny to think that something people are using to enhance their cardio sessions may actually be interfering with their breathing mechanics and therefore reducing oxygen consumption – which any exercise physiologist knows is key for burning fat.
Results are temporary. Any slimming ‘results’ you may notice while wearing a waist trainer are definitely not permanent and highly likely the result of the magical placebo effect. In my experience speaking with models and competitors that have used waist trainers, they’ve all reported that their waist did return to normal size after about 2 weeks. So, if you like how your waist looks while wearing them, I hope you’re prepared to wear it for life and just accept all the negative consequences as part of your new artificial hourglass figure.
Weakens the core and abdominals. Although one of the claims for waist trainers is actually the opposite of this, I would have to question how much actual active engagement and voluntary muscle contractions are taking place when things are being passively squeezed in. The only thing you should expect when it comes to the abdominals is atrophy. It’s simple – don’t use a muscle and it will waste away, shrink. You want a stronger core, smaller waist and visible 6-pack abs? Then do your vacuums – a core tightening exercise that actively works the body’s built in ‘corset’ muscles (transversus abdominis). This exercise has been around for over 50 years and a staple in many of my client’s programs. It does however require more effort then wearing a waist trainer but the results will actually last you more than a few weeks.
Although I haven’t done much to sell you on waist trainers and probably offended some that are maybe wearing one right now, I hope this article shed some light on the potential, but realistic consequences to long term and improper use. In all honesty, I’m not too concerned about possibly offending the hardcore proponents of waist training, mostly because I’m not convinced that many of them actually even lift. Put in the work, stop looking for easy shortcuts and achieve your fitness goals the right way.