Do waist trainers work? They’re certainly popular, but it’s a question I hear a lot as a health and fitness professional. First, let’s start with the basics. What exactly are waist trainers, and how do they work?
What is a waist trainer?
Waist trainers are essentially modern-day corsets. Unlike the fashionable garment that was popular during the 16th and 17th century to give the appearance of a smaller waistline, the waist trainer is marketed to specifically target the ever-loathed belly/mid-section fat. Most waist trainers consist of neoprene, a thick rubber, or latex that wraps around the torso and then attaches with Velcro or some hooks.
Both women and men wear waist trainers. They’re widely used inside the gym to target belly fat during a workout. Waist strainers gained massive popularity after high profile celebrities like the Kardashians, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, and Snookie of Jersey Shore gave their endorsements and testimonials via social media.
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But aside from the obvious question of “do waist trainers work?”, the idea of tightly compressing our abdomen for an extended period of time raises more questions. Are waist trainers actually safe? Fortunately, we’re going to cover the answers to both of those questions in this article.
Claimed benefits of using a waist trainer
Among the claims made by various companies and celebrities who endorse waist trainers, there’s one that the extra insulation around the midsection induces extra perspiration. Excess perspiration around the midsection will inevitably cause fat burning in that region. Additionally, companies have made claims that the waist trainer will increase body temperature. This results in a thermogenic effect that ultimately leads to fat loss. No studies have actually backed these lofty claims. While there is increased sweat accumulation and ultimately compression of the contents within your waist, those results appear only to be short-term.
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One of the benefits that many people who use waist trainers will report is that it suppresses appetite by compressing the stomach. This could be one of the reasons why wearers of this product have noticed weight loss results. The question then becomes, what will their appetite be once the waist trainer is taken off? A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care was conducted to find out whether waist trainers could be used to maintain weight loss after participants followed a low-calorie diet. Participants were told to wear the waist trainer for at least five hours a day, five days a week, for nine months.
Unfortunately, the researchers were unable to come to a definitive conclusion. This is because most study subjects found the waist trainer to be too uncomfortable to comply with the study’s guidelines. Therefore, the researchers concluded, “corset treatment doesn’t appear to be an option for sustained weight control.” (1).
Aside from the claimed fat loss benefits, many have reported that the waist trainers have improved their posture. It’s no secret that compressing your waist in any fashion will yield a more upright standing/sitting posture. However, the issue here is that by using external aid to improve posture, the muscles that are meant to improve posture could begin to atrophy because they no longer have a demand.
In the long-term, this reliance on any external object to improve posture could be dangerous during functional lifting, bending, or moving heavy objects. This is because the core and spinal erector muscles may no longer have the ability to maintain proper body mechanics during such tasks. Therefore, the person would require a waist trainer to perform all his or her daily activities or would otherwise need to follow a core strengthening program that maintains safe functional biomechanics.
Potential risks associated with waist trainers
When you wear a waist trainer, you wrap your midsection starting at your lower rib cage and spanning down to the top of your hips. While it is worn, your midsection is compressed approximately two inches. Although this is reinforcing the desired effect of creating a slimmer waistline, the issue lies in compression of the internal organs that live in the midsection being compressed. Like the corsets of the past, donning a waist trainer can cause shallow respirations.
According to the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, waist trainers can reduce lung capacity by an estimated 30-60% when worn. This reduction in oxygen could possibly cause a reduction in energy. It can also lead to more serious symptoms if worn for a prolonged period, including passing out, fluid buildup in the lungs, and/or inflammation. Another harmful effect of prolonged constriction of the lungs can be on the lymphatic system, which transports and eliminates waste products from the body (2).
IBS and Acid Reflux
Additionally, this compression on vital organs may also cause a blood flow issue for valuable parts of our body. As mentioned earlier, the waist trainers can reduce appetite by essentially decreasing the size of your stomach. According to Stephanie Faubion, Medical Director of the Women’s Health Clinic at the Mayo Clinic, the same mechanism that causes such appetite reduction can lead to IBS syndrome symptoms as well as acid reflux (3).
Along with compression and adverse effects on internal organs, prolonged waist training can have neurological implications, such as Meralgia Paresthetica. This diagnosis is a result of prolonged compression of the nerves stemming from the lumbar spine (lower back). These nerves supply sensation to the skin of your outer thighs. Common symptoms can include burning, tingling, or numbness in the outer thigh region (4).
Therefore, if you’re considering utilizing a waist trainer to shape your midsection, it is especially important to limit your usage so that you do not experience the negative effects listed above. If you do experience any of the notable issues above, be sure to adjust the compression.
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So finally, do waist trainers work? It’s no secret that the waist trainer is a product with raving fans and big-name celebrities alike who have given it their endorsement. Some might ascribe this perceived benefit to a placebo effect at play. Others might be more concerned about the negative effects and not want to use waist trainers at all.
In looking at the benefits, the effects are often temporary due to rehydration post-removal and unsustainable due to potential appetite resurgence. Additionally, upon removal of a waist trainer, stomach size may normalize again. Other factors to consider include potential discomfort that could lead to disuse.
It’s important to note that limited research backs these short-term benefits. Also, there have been several cases where medical professionals have stated their concerns due to the harm this extra compression places on internal systems. Ultimately, the decision is yours. However, if you’re going to utilize this as a way to improve your body composition, monitor your body to ensure that the adverse effects aren’t too invasive AND that you’re giving yourself time without it. Listening to your body can go a long way in many cases but especially in this one.
If you’ve already had good (or bad) experiences with waist trainers, please let us know in the comments below. We greatly appreciate your feedback!
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