When I see anything on social media regarding waist training I have three thoughts: No, no, no. Because I can barely handle when my jeans are too tight, let alone having a garment restrict my organs on purpose for the sake of an hourglass figure. (And let’s face it, yoga pants are preferred to jeans anyway.) Not to mention that to me, it looks more painful than beautiful anyway. I’ve long wondered if there was any benefit or harm to the practice, so I was recently put in touch with Dr. Kenneth K. Hansraj, chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine who answered my waist-training questions.
How do these waist trainers work (or not)? Waist trainers work from a beauty standpoint by slimming the abdomen, thereby emphasizing the breasts and pelvis, and women are able to reclaim and augment the feminine form. Physically this phenomenon works by diminishing the circumference of the waist.
Are they actually reshaping the body or just giving that appearance? I believe that they do help to reshape the body while giving the appearance of reshaping the body.
Over time are they actually shifting your organs permanently? Consider constricting your lungs on a regular basis. Then the ligaments and muscles adjust to this new normal constricted size, locking a person into for example a smaller lung capacity. Other organs such as the liver, pancreas and spleen may not function optimally.
What should women know before using waist trainers? All of the above points!
Do you try to talk patients out of using them? I advise my patients against the long-term use of waist trainers. Short-term use is at their discretion.
What are the negative effects they can have? The process of waist training can be dangerous. Think of waist training as organ constriction. If the organs are forced together through a waist trainer, the intestines do not have the space to properly perform their duty of digesting food. For example, constriction of the lungs and ribs leads to de-oxygenation of the body. Without proper amounts of oxygen women can faint. Lung capacity and volume are important indicators of both health and longevity. Long-term use of waist trainers will permanently diminish people’s lung capacity. Another thing to keep in mind is that one’s heart function may be de-optimized because of improper flow of the circulatory system.
Can they have any benefits? The first benefit is the feeling of femininity by establishing large busts, skinny waists, and wide pelvises.
Using physics when the X-axis is diminished, the circumference of the waist is diminished, and then there is less force from the abdominal or belly contents being placed onto the lumbar spine. This diminishes the chance for back pain. The formula is typically a force times distance formula. (F X D)
Wearing waist trainers demonstrate the intention of changing a woman’s form. This is a great first step of action on their way to changing their midsection geometry. A second step and a third step would include diet and exercise. A fourth step would include posture.
There is a medical concept called proprioception, which defines the feeling of alignment in space. Women may get used to feeling slim and then take action to achieve this.
What can women do to help maintain good posture and core strength during pregnancy?
Exercise: Even just a short walk can help! Walking helps to tighten stomach muscles for a few seconds and then allows them to relax. This tightening and relaxation process helps to strengthen the abdominal muscles, which in turn helps provide stability of the lower back. Additionally, walking is great exercise for anyone – pregnant or not – because it works the spinal nerves and spinal facet joints – which are as critical to your overall physical health as all of your other joints.
Aquatic/water-based exercises are also a great option for post-pregnant women, as gravity is not as much of an issue, and will therefore not place any unnecessary pressure on the spine.
Pay attention to your posture: Good posture is where you bring your ears above your shoulders and open up your chest by retracting your angel wings = your scapula. Women should do their best to try to stand as straight up as possible, without leaning too far back or slouching, as doing so can apply too much pressure to the spine.
Sleep: Getting plenty of rest after pregnancy is essential – as is getting the right support, if lower back pain is present. Women should always try to sleep on their sides, as this is the least pressure-inducing position for the spine. Additionally, women should look into special pillows to place between the knees to eliminate additional pressure on the spine while sleeping.
Stretch: Pelvic floor exercises will help decrease stress in the lower back and are a must for all post-pregnant women. Stretch the neck, back, upper and lower extremities.
What’s the best way for women to re-strengthen their core muscles after childbirth? Progressive planking. Yoga poses. Circuit training.
Anything else women should know about this trend? Especially for women who have just delivered, they need to be reassured that the natural history of pregnancy is a gentle approach to return to their previous physical selves. They need to be reminded about the beautiful life that they have just created.
A big thanks to Dr. Hansraj for answering my burning questions about this trend. Take home: Maybe use one for a special event, but take it easy on yourself and opt for gaining core strength over time instead of worrying solely about that perfect shape.
Would you ever use a waist trainer? No way, no how. Yoga pants any day. —Erin