What is a waist trainer—and do they actually work?

Woman puts waist trainer on
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The battle of the tummy bulge never ends for some folks. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, when an old technique comes back into fashion, but with a modern look. Today, the best waist trainers for women are used to pull in the midsection to develop a more desirable body shape.

The name sounds vaguely athletic, but they’re really not that different from old-fashioned corsets. Where the old-school corset was made of fabric and stiff boning (sometimes actual, literal bone), newer waist trainers use up-to-date textiles.

They’re also now promoted as a way to enhance your workout results, and not just as shapewear. But is that true? Is your waist actually getting “trained”?

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This latest version of the corset has been a long time coming. According to French Vogue, the garment’s shape and function evolved with fashion over centuries. People’s preferences for a certain body shape changed, necessitating changes in corsets’ design and use.

They weren’t always uncomfortable to wear. As dress historian Hilary Davidson notes in Smithsonian Magazine, the popular image of a woman gritting her teeth as she’s roughly cinched into a corset is mostly a fantasy.

Instead, Davidson says, women had different corsets for different occasions. A tighter, stiffer corset would be worn when a “nicer line” was called for; everyday corsets would have been more comfortable.

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This brings us to the waist trainer! Today’s waist trainers for women also promise smoother silhouettes, and use super-stretchy and strong fabrics to keep things more comfortable. Some have a powerful Velcro closure; others have hook-and-eyes.

What’s also new is the idea that waist trainers offer some sort of health or weight-loss benefit. This, unfortunately, is untrue.

Some brands advertise that their trainers help you melt away fat by warming your body up. You’ll be hot all right — but that’s all it is, and any slimming effect is a result of water loss from sweat.

In fact, you may actually hinder your workout if you wear one during physical activity. If the waist trainer is tight enough — and it’s supposed to be tight — your diaphragm won’t be able to work well, impairing breathing and constricting oxygen flow. The trainer can also force your organs into unnatural positions.

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”I think the idea of wearing a corset while working out is pretty dumb,” said L.A. personal trainer Chris Waterbury, in Men’s Health (yes, men also wear waist trainers). “Nothing good comes from making a muscle hypoxic for hours each day. You’d experience diminished strength and neural activation.”

Yep, that sounds bad. Another bad thing: Prolonged usage of a waist trainer, even the best waist trainer for women, can actually weaken your abdominal muscles.

”Waist trainers completely support the canister of your midsection known as your core and therefore your muscles do not have to work to actively support you, thereby weakening over time,” Natalie Toshkoff, a pelvic floor physical therapist, told Insider.

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So, if they can’t really help you lose weight, and might even subtract from your fitness gains, what can waist trainers do? From a scientific standpoint, a waist trainer’s worth is purely aesthetic and maybe a little bit psychological.

According to WebMD, some folks find that wearing the best waist trainer for women helps them stay motivated to keep at their fitness routine and improve their posture.

Waist trainers are also fine to use as shapewear for a particular occasion. Worn under your outfit, it could help you get the look you desire. But only while you’re wearing it.

If your expectations are reasonable (and safe), a waist trainer for women is A-OK! Just keep in mind that, despite what a seller may claim, the health benefits are limited — and possibly imaginary.

 

About the Author

Kathleen St. John

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