Why Waist Training Is a Really Bad Idea — and What to Do Instead

You've heard the hype about waist training and the celebrities who swear by it, but that doesn't mean it's safe. Here's why you shouldn't try it — and what to do instead.

Core exercises are much more effective (and safer) than waist trainers when it comes to slimming down your midsection. (Image: FatCamera/E+/GettyImages)

What Is Waist Training?

Waist training — also known as waist cinching — became popular in the 1900s. This was spurred by the invention of the corset, which was replaced later by the girdle.

Made of thick fabric and boning, waist trainers are worn around the midsection and usually cinched down using laces. The idea is to wear the constricting garment repeatedly for months in order to force your body into an hourglass shape.

Why It’s a Bad Idea

Long-term waist training may alter your shape temporarily, but it is an ineffective way to lose inches and won't actually change your body proportions. It can also lead to several health issues, according to the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery.

When you squeeze into a waist trainer, your stomach, lungs, liver, kidneys and other organs are pushed into unnatural positions, and may be too crowded to function properly. Wearing a corset long-term can not only harm your organs, but it can also crack your ribs. Additionally, your digestive system is compromised since long-term wear can cause blockages as well as acid reflux.

"Your organs are also pushed upward, reducing lung capacity while making breathing more difficult and certainly unsafe for exercise," says Bradley Thomas, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and founding partner of Beach Cities Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, which has locations in Manhattan Beach and Torrance, California.

Depriving your body of oxygen not only makes breathing difficult, but it can also cause serious consequences such as passing out, fluid buildup in the lungs and inflammation. A restricted lymphatic system may also occur, so waste and toxins may not be properly removed from your body.

Meralgia paresthetica is another possible side effect. A waist trainer can put extreme pressure on nerves that run into the thighs. Numbness, tingling and a burning sensation in the outer thigh are symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The Best Ways to Shape Your Waist

Waist training is just another get-thin-quick scheme that simply doesn't work. You cannot achieve a permanent hourglass frame if it's not your natural body type.

But what can help slim you down?A calorie-restrictive diet and consistent exercise. "A waist trainer does not cause you to lose weight in any way, but it can provide temporary physical changes such as a smaller waistline. However, the risks of waist trainers outweigh the benefits. You're much better off targeting the core area with various exercises and through a healthy diet," Amanda Mancini, National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM)-certified fitness trainer, weight-loss specialist and corrective exercise specialist, tells LIVESTRONG.com.

These exercises are helpful for tightening your abs and creating a slimmer waist, according to Mancini.

  1. Side plank hip lifts. This exercise targets the obliques and builds core strength. Start in a side plank position on your elbow and then lift hips up and down. Do 10-15 repetitions per side.
  2. Bicycle crunches. This exercise works the entire abdominal area, including the obliques. Lying on your back and keeping your shoulder blades off the floor, lightly support your head with hands behind head and alternate touching elbow to knee. Do 30 repetitions.
  3. Dumbbell side bends. This exercise targets the entire oblique area. Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Place one hand behind your head and the other at your side holding a light dumbbell. Keeping an upright posture, move the dumbbell down toward the outside of your knee on the same side while bending over to the side. Do 15 repetitions per side.

Lastly, "You can't out-train a bad diet," says Mancini, who recommends filling your plate with fiber-rich whole foods such as whole grains, oatmeal, quinoa, beans, fruits, nuts and seeds. And be sure to eat mostly unprocessed foods, as processed products have been linked to weight gain.

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