Jul 31, 2023

Waist trainers: What happens when you uncinch?

Exercise & Fitness

You may have noticed nipped-in, hourglass waists among women wearing the celebrity trend du jour: so-called waist trainers. This tummy-tucking shapewear evokes images of buttoned-up corsets and too-tight girdles from a dim past. But does it live up to the hype?

Splashy advertisements suggest these compression devices can help you selectively sculpt inches off your waistline by wearing them during workouts or as part of everyday routines. But the claims largely don't live up to the evidence, says Michael Clem, a physical therapist with Spaulding Rehabilitation Network.

"People want the quick fix," Clem says. "Putting something around our waist seems easy — we do it every day with pants and belts. What's one more thing? Diet and exercise take longer and require more dramatic habit changes. We all know what we need to do, we just don't want to do it."

Clem debunks four common claims made about waist trainers — and points out one case where they may prove useful.

In most cases, there's probably no harm in trying one of the shape-shifting devices, although anyone who is pregnant should not use them. And if you have any health issues, it's best to talk to your doctor about whether compressing your core could have any negative effects, including not being able to breathe deeply and comfortably.

Listed from least to most challenging, here are three great exercises to strengthen core muscles that help define the waist. Start with one set and work up, paying attention to your form.

Reps: 10Sets: 1–3Tempo: 3–1–3Rest: 30–90 seconds between sets

Starting position: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Place your arms at your sides. Relax your shoulders against the floor.

Movement: Tighten your buttocks, then lift your hips up off the floor until they form a straight line with your knees and shoulders. Hold. Return to the starting position.

Tips and techniques:

Reps: 10Sets: 1–3Tempo: 3–1–3Rest: 30–90 seconds between sets

Starting position: Kneel on all fours with your hands and knees directly aligned under your shoulders and hips. Keep your head and spine neutral.

Movement: Extend your left leg off the floor behind you while reaching out in front of you with your right arm. Keeping your hips and shoulders squared, try to bring that leg and arm parallel to the floor. Hold. Return to the starting position, then repeat with your right leg and left arm. This is one rep.

Tips and techniques:

Reps: 8-12 on each sideSets: 1-3Tempo: 3-1-3Rest: 30-90 seconds between sets

Starting position: Stand up straight with your right foot one to two feet in front of your left foot, hands on your hips. Shift your weight forward and lift your left heel off the floor.

Movement: Bend your knees and lower your torso straight down until your right thigh is about parallel to the floor. Hold, then return to starting position. Finish all reps, then repeat with your left foot forward. This completes one set.

Tips and techniques:

Maureen Salamon, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

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