If you follow celebrity gossip or fashion accounts on Instagram, you’re likely more than familiar with waist trainers. “They’re marketed to women with the goal of helping them achieve an hourglass shape with a thin waist,” explains Dr. Dena Barsoum, specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Hospital for Special Surgery. “Advertisements for waist trainers portray them as an easy way to lose weight and achieve that body shape.”
At first glance, waist trainers, with their lofty promise of instantly erasing inches from your waist, seem to fall into the same category as those appetite suppressing lollipops and skinny “detox” teas pushed by a long list of celebs and influencers across social media platforms. And just like these other “quick-fix” options, waist trainers are racking up millions of dollars in sales. Kim Kardashian, who has been promoting waist trainers for half a decade as a way to flatten stomachs, recently launched her own range of them as part of her SKIMS line (they’re currently sold out in all sizes).
Are waist trainers effective or a waste of money?
“Waist trainers or abdominal binders are often used during the postpartum period to provide support for the spine and abdomen as the body is recovering from pregnancy and childbirth,” explains physical therapist Blair Green, PT, DPT, OCS. “In the short term, these binders can be beneficial as they provide support through muscle recovery. The muscles can heal on their own in many cases, but initially some women may want to use an abdominal binder for support as the muscles heal.”
But if you’re not pregnant, don’t waste your money. “While women may look slimmer when wearing these trainers, without doing appropriate exercise there are no long-term changes in the body that will permanently change how she looks,” says Green.
Are waist trainers a hazard to your health?
Waist trainers aren’t like your run-of-the-mill Spanx. When you wear a binder for extended periods of time, a number of potentially serious issues can arise.
“Waist trainers don’t promote healthy weight loss — in fact, they may alter your shape, not by weight loss or burning fat, but by forcibly moving your body structures, including your internal organs,” warns Barsoum. “The compressive forces on your internal organs, such as your intestines and stomach, can cause reflux and heartburn. Your internal organs require space to work and compressing those organs can compromise their function. Furthermore, waist trainers can cause nerve impingement and rib injury, both of which can be very painful.”
You may also experience shortness of breath and digestive problems. Green points out that when you wear a waist trainer, your muscles don’t have to work as hard so it can delay muscle recovery.
“Restriction of movement in the abdomen affects how we breathe, how the abdominal [muscles] coordinate movement with the low back, diaphragm and even pelvic floor muscles. The best way to promote healing is to allow it to occur naturally with appropriate supervision and advice as to which movements and exercises will help.”
She goes on to explain that if you’re opting to use a waist trainer as a way to support muscles as they heal from a condition like diastasis recti abdominis (DRA), where the abdominal muscles lose the ability to generate tension across the abdomen (a common occurrence post-childbirth), it’s important not to wear the binder all day, every day. “I would recommend wearing them during periods of activity and weaning off the brace over a one to two month period so as to not interrupt the natural recovery process.”