Tag Archive: exercise

Do Corsets Carry any Health Risks?

corset_carrot

I can and have talked for hours on this subject, but writing a dedicated article on corset health risks is undoubtedly going to open a can of worms.

Not surprisingly, I get this question a lot. When I look at my site search term referrers for the past month alone, I see:

  • dangers of waist training
  • is waist cinching dangerous
  • risks of corset waist training
  • waist trainer dangers
  • the dangers of corsets
  • health risks corsets
  • waist training risks
  • is waist training bad for you

If you search for any of these terms and happen to click on an online newspaper column or a fitness blog, they will probably parrot the same horror stories and urban legends that have been repeated for the past century – ever evolving, like a game of broken telephone.

In a previous article responding to BBC’s “Hidden Dangers of the Victorian Home”, I explained how other clothing generally considered acceptable today, especially high heels, can pose risks in certain situations.

In the interest of keeping this post short, I won’t go into specifics about every single corset-related ailment ever uttered; if you are interested in learning how the corset may affect specific systems, the Physical Effects of Corseting series is there at your disposal. You’re welcome to watch the playlist on Youtube or read the corresponding articles in this section of my site. I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on the internet, but my biochemistry degree has  given me a fair understanding of how the body works, and taught me how to do proper research.

Any time someone asks me whether corseting is dangerous, I will always tell them the same thing: if you are already in good health, if you invest in a well-made corset that actually fits your body properly, and if you are responsible about how you use the corset, then danger can be minimized. But one time a reporter tried to get me to state that I believe corsets pose zero risk. No. Even as a regular lacer and a proponent of corsetry, I will never say that corsetry poses zero risk. There is a risk with everything. Let me explain:

Carrots pose a risk to your safety

I’m sure most dieticians would tell you that carrots are very healthy, but my aunt spontaneously developed a fatal allergy to them while pregnant with my cousin (she had been able to eat them all her life, then one day she went into anaphylaxis from them). One of my friends in university once accidentally inhaled a baby carrot and it lodged in his throat.  In both situations, they were home alone. Had they not been able to take proper action in time, carrots could have killed them.

When I was 10 or 11 years old, I was chopping a carrot into sticks, and it rolled out of place and I ended up slicing my finger open! I was lucky – had the knife been sharper, had the angle of the knife been different, or had I dropped the knife, I could have lost a finger or hit a larger blood vessel and bled profusely. Sounds ridiculous, but accidents happen every day.

Everything (even corsets and carrots) comes with risks, but it depends on what conditions you’re already predisposed to (e.g. my aunt’s allergy) and it depends on how responsibly you use it (e.g. in the case of my buddy who choked due to user error). And in the case of my slicing my finger open chopping carrots? Well, the slicing was really done by the knife, and caused by myself (also user error) – not the carrot. It didn’t stop the carrot for taking the blame, though. To this day I hate chopping carrots, although I’m fine with using a sharp knife to cut up other food. Both my friend and my aunt avoid carrots, for obvious reasons. Had carrots not been so ubiquitous, I might have thought that carrots were killers, as so many think of corsets today.

Exercise poses a risk to your safety

There are tales of CrossFit athletes developing rhabdomyolysis (this is the disintegration of muscle fibers causing an influx of myoglobin carried through the circulatory system), which can overload the kidneys, and in some situations cause kidney damage or failure and the need for emergency dialysis.

Weight lifting can cause hernias, it can cause uterine/vaginal prolapse in women, and with poor form it can lead to broken bones or ruptured tendons.

People who were otherwise completely fit and healthy have been known to suddenly die of heart failure in the middle of sports or running, due to a previously asymptomatic and undiagnosed congenital heart condition.

I am not saying this to vilify carrots or any type of exercise. I have always stressed that a healthy lifestyle is not without proper nutrition and exercise. But it would be irresponsible to say that anything in this world, no matter how common or how seemingly innocuous, comes without risk. Water has risks. Heat and cold have risks. Corsets have risks too.

When you use the right tools, when you go about it with proper form, when you are responsible and you accept your body’s limitations, that’s when your risks are minimized.

For almost everyone, the benefits of exercise outweigh the risks. And for many people, for instance Sasha who survived a motorcycle accident, corsetry becomes a necessary medical tool and increases one’s quality of life – and the benefits outweigh the risks.

What are some negative risks or dangers associated with corsetry?

Here are real stories that I have heard first person from modern corset wearers (not urban legends from long ago):

  • Some find that their blood pressure can become elevated while they’re wearing a corset (although those with chronically low blood pressure have found this to be beneficial for them)
  • Others find that if they have uterine prolapse, that the pressure from the corset makes it uncomfortable.
  • In my case, a corset that is not properly made to fit me can end up pressing on a superficial nerve on my hip and causing pain, tingling or numbness in the area (although this doesn’t happen with a custom corset designed to fit me; and other people who don’t have this asymmetry do not seem to have this issue).
  • Wearing a corset regularly (especially in the heat and without a liner underneath) can potentially cause skin problems which can become worse if you don’t treat it properly and take a break from the corset.
  • Some report slight constipation (although another chronically constipated person had reported becoming more regular since the use of corsets; results vary).
  • Other individuals have experienced headaches or acid reflux (although Sarah Chrisman reported reduction in her migraines and reflux, interestingly).
  • I have also legitimately opened my closet door and had a pile of corsets drop on me before.

What are some positive risks or benefits associated with corsetry?

There is an entire section of my website called Corset Benefits that is dedicated to collecting the positive stories and benefits people have experienced since they started using corsets. It’s three pages long; covering physical, mental, emotional, societal and economical factors.

Corsets are not made for everyone, just as certain types of shoes are not made for everyone. If you have certain health conditions (including but not limited to) hypertension, certain types of hernias, or conditions that cause gastrointestinal inflammation (irritable bowel, Crohn’s, colitis, etc), you may find that certain risks outweigh the benefits. This is why I will always say to talk to your doctor if you would like to use a corset for any reason, whether it’s for fun or aesthetic reasons, whether you are waist training, or whether you wear the corset for therapeutic purposes.

Talk to your doctor.

I put that in the largest font WordPress would let me, because it’s extremely important. My family doctor, my chiropractor, and even my dentist all know about my corsets. I have also had my chiropractor take an x-ray of me while wearing one of my corsets. I’ve also had the opportunity to show some of my corsets to a clinical psychologist, a psychotherapist, and several registered nurses to see what they think. Not one of these practitioners have told me to stop wearing corsets. Nevertheless, I still have my health monitored regularly because I want to do this responsibly.

I also invest in custom corsets that fit my body and accommodate my individual quirks (like the nerve that runs over my left hip) so they don’t cause me discomfort. I listen to my body: I put on a corset when I feel like it, and I loosen or remove the corset when I feel like it. There is nothing heroic about pushing yourself further than your body can handle.

So here I am, a corset cheerleader, telling you that wearing corsets does carry some risks. If you tell me that you plan to wear a corset or that you already wear corsets, I trust that you have already done extensive research on corsetry (from multiple sources), that you are aware of corset health risks or side effects of corsets (both good and bad), that you have talked to your trusted practitioner, that you have been given the thumbs up in your health (or that your health conditions merit the therapeutic use of a corset), that you are able to read and respond appropriately to your body’s signals and go about wearing corsets responsibly. If you haven’t, then you are putting the risk of user error into your own hands.

WAIST TRAINING RESULTS: How long should it take?

 

Here’s a question I receive nearly every day:

“My natural waist is 30 inches, and I just started waist training. How long will it take to see real results, and obtain a natural 24 inch waist?”

 Of course, the exact wording, the numbers, and the goals all vary slightly from person to person. But I will tell you what I tell all of them – and you will not be happy:

I DON’T KNOW. And unfortunately, neither can anyone else. If someone claims that they CAN give you a specific duration of time that you will achieve your waist training goal, they are flat out lying.

If you look at these Before / After Waist Training examples, you will see that people have achieved all kinds of results, in all different durations. Some saw a marked difference in three months, while others achieved less dramatic results over two years. It’s different for everyone.

WHY is this?

The (semi)permanent results of waist training is dependent on a number of factors, including your body’s current state and your genetic pre-disposition, the quality of your corset and its compatibility with your body, and the way you train in your corset. Let’s break those down in further detail:

 

Factor #1: Your body type and current body stats

Abdominal body fat can be subcutaneous or visceral - and they affect your corset training differently.

Abdominal body fat can be subcutaneous or visceral – and they affect your corset training differently.

Your Body Fat

  • Adipose tissue can immediately compress down a lot more than muscle in a corset, but it also bounces back when you remove the corset. Some with a high body fat % are able to cinch down 10 inches in the waist, while someone with very low body fat may only be able to cinch down 2-3 inches.
  • Weight distribution also plays a role. Do you tend to carry more weight in your belly, or do you carry more weight on your hips and thighs? If you do carry weight in your belly, do you have a lot of visceral fat or subcutaneous fat? Subcutaneous fat sits under the skin but above the muscle, and makes your skin soft and malleable. Visceral fat is the more ‘dangerous’ fat that sits under your abdominal muscle, between your organs. Someone with more subcutaneous fat (even over their tummy) will probably have an easier time lacing down than someone with visceral body fat.

Your Muscle Tone

  • Very toned, dense muscles may be more difficult to cinch down compared to less toned muscles, BUT if you time your workouts well, you can actually use your resistance exercise regimen to your advantage in waist training to change the morphology of your oblique muscles and have them almost “grow” into the hourglass shape encouraged by the corset. Also, once you get to higher reductions, you have to “stretch” those side muscles, and also the tendons and ligaments. Some people’s bodies seem to more readily accommodate to this than other people’s bodies.

 Your Skeletal Frame

  • Do you have wider ribcage or smaller ribcage? Are your ribs flexible and are you able to accommodate corsets with a conical ribcage easily, or is your ribcage very inflexible and difficult to move? Those who are easily able to train their ribs are likely to see faster waist training results than those whose ribs are very rigid. My article on the corset’s effect on the skeleton goes into more detail about this.

Your Age

  • More mature waist trainers have bones that are not only less dense, but less malleable compared to younger trainers. For more information on how age can affect your corseting, see my article on waist training and age restrictions.

 Your Organs

  • When you look at human anatomy in a textbook, you’re seeing a general “average” of the size and orientation of organs. But not everyone’s organs look like that! Some people have larger organs, some have smaller organs. Even the position and orientation of organs can very slightly differ between individuals, and that small variation might make a huge difference in how well your body can accommodate the restriction of a corset. For further information, see my article on corsets and organs.

Your Water Retention

  • What’s your water content like? If you are often bloated or have water retention, either due to your lifestyle or because of a medical condition, you not only won’t be able to lace down as much or as readily, but you have more of that “temporary squish” to you as opposed to contributing to that “long term training”.

Whether You’ve Been Pregnant Before

  • Have you had a baby before or not? While this point is a bit more anecdotal, it seems that mothers are (on average) able to lace down more readily/ more comfortably/ to higher reductions compared to nulliparous women. Maybe this has to do with the fact that the baby had moved around a woman’s organs (especially in the final trimester), or the relaxin in your system during pregnancy had stretched out some tendons and ligaments already, or the woman was already accustomed to the feeling of restriction or breathing higher up in the chest, so she may be psychologically more comfortable with the feeling of being corseted. Read more about corsets after childbirth.

 

Factor #2: Your Corset

This corset has a conical ribcage, and will be more effective at training the ribcage.

This corset has a conical ribcage, and will be more effective at training the ribcage compared to a rounded ribcage.

Proper Fit

  • Is your corset comfortable? Does your corset fit you properly: when you lace down, does it reduce only the waist, and is it lying flat and gently supporting your upper ribcage and your hip area? Is your corset gap straight or uneven? Or is the corset overall not curvy enough: and is it giving you muffin top, pinching your hips or causing any lower tummy pooch to spill out underneath? A well-fitting corset is not only more effective at shaping, but it’s also much more comfortable, so you’ll be encouraged to wear it longer and more often.

 Strength

  • Is the corset strong? Does it hold up to the tension without buckling? Are the seams securely stitched? Are the bones creating a proper scaffold and not digging into your body? Are the grommets holding in? Having to put your training on hold – not because you want to, but because your corset breaks every 2 months and you have to replace it – is not cost effective and it’s not time-effective. If you’re in this for the long haul, invest in something strong and custom. See my article on Waist Training vs Tight Lacing, which also covers different requirements of a suitable corset for each.

Silhouette

  • Is the corset the right silhouette to do the right job? If you want to train your ribcage, you might need a conical ribcage corset, which gradually tapers down and increases the pressure on the lower ribcage. A corset with a mild silhouette or with a corset with a rounded ribcage will give you a different effect. Be sure that the corset you are using is designed to do for you what you want. You can’t force a round peg through a square hole and expect a triangle to come out.

 

Factor #3: Your Lifestyle Habits and Training Methods

I demonstrate a bicycle crunch, one of the staples of my daily core workout.

I demonstrate a bicycle crunch, one of the staples of my daily core workout.

 Supplementary Exercise

  • Are you exercising alongside your waist training? Adding or increasing core resistance training can help you see results faster by encouraging your muscles to “heal” in a certain way. Even if you have no intention of losing weight (you only use a corset to see a change in your silhouette), exercise is still important! If you don’t add some core resistance training, your torso may see some shaping from the corset, but it may be squishy and complacent, and not hold that hourglass shape as well as if you were combining it with resistance training.

 Eating

  • Are you eating clean? Are you getting enough fiber so that you stay regular when corseting? Are you avoiding foods that you know can cause bloating or discomfort in your corset? Are you having regular small balanced meals, or are you the type to fast and then feast? Corseting over a large meal can be uncomfortable and difficult, and the quality of that meal also counts. You don’t necessarily need a specific diet for waist training, but eating sensibly goes a long way.

Drinking

  • Are you staying hydrated? Are you getting a lot of clean water or tea? Are you keeping your electrolytes balanced (this ties in with water retention). Are you watching your blood pressure (which relates to your blood volume)? Do you take in a lot of caffeine or other diuretics, and are you making sure that your water intake balances that out?

Duration of your corset wear (and reduction)

  • To get the best results in a corset, you have to use it. What method of waist training are you using? There is Romantasy’s “Roller Coaster” method, and there is the Contour Corsets “Cycle” Method (see the differences between the two waist training methods). Some people use a combination of both, or they may try a different method altogether. Some people consider waist training as wearing their corset only 8 hours a day while they’re out working. Others waist train by only wearing a corset to bed at night. Some people wear their corsets 12 or 16 hours a day, and a few very dedicated ones wear their corset 23 hours a day.
  • The body responds best to consistency – for reasons I’ll explain in an upcoming article, you’ll probably see more results (and more comfortably!) if you wear a corset at a light or moderate reduction for long hours, as opposed to tightlacing or overlacing your corset for an hour and then not wearing it again for a few days.

Let’s use an infomercial exercise program as a metaphor for waist training expectations. Many exercise programs say that you CAN lose UP TO 20 lbs per month (as an example), but read the small print and you find that these results are not typical. Many of these programs are also backed up with a guarantee that with proper compliance to the program, you will see some kind of result (often within 60 or 90 days) or your money back.

But you will notice that they do not guarantee a certain number of inches lost, because people have different bodies, different fitness levels, different levels of compliance. It’s the same with a waist training program.

Ann Grogan (of Romantasy) offers the only corset training program I currently know of – in her some 25 years of working with waist trainers and 14 years officially coaching, she is able to confidently say that with her 3-month waist training program, you’re likely to see some noticable results in your natural waist with proper compliance to the program (the program covers a lot of factors: the type of corset you’re using, the reduction, the hours, the foods you eat, the exercises you do, etc). But since each program is personalized based on goals, each person’s compliance is different and each person’s body accommodates their corset differently, it’s still very difficult to precisely predict how many inches you’ll lose, or how fast.

What I have found is the highest indicator of success is whether you actually enjoy wearing your corset and find it completely comfortable. If you practice patience, and wear your corset consistently (and ironically, not be overly attached to your end goal), you are likely to see more results over time than someone who is less patient and is only corseting for the end result. But I will cover that in another article soon.

Do you currently waist train, or did you train in the past? How long did it take you to see results? Let me know in a comment below!

Should you Work Out in your Corset?

A Victorian “circus strongwoman”, who made a living performing athletic feats while wearing a corseted costume.

I often receive inquiries from people wanting to specifically buy a “work out” or “exercise” corset. I’m not entirely sure where they got the idea that they are supposed to exercise in a corset (and sometimes exclusively wear the corset during exercise or sleeping hours) but it may have something to do with those elastic shapewear cinchers that seemed to have exploded with popularity over the last couple of years. From my understanding, vendors of these latex cinchers claim that exercising in one of these will cause the wearer to sweat more in their midsection and temporarily lose inches of water weight from this area. However, genuine corsets work by entirely different means, and they are not designed to be worn during heavy activity.

I have always recommended that you intend to waist train (more than 8+ hours a day) then in order to avoid any dependence on your corset, it’s a good idea to start or increase your exercise regimen, particularly your core resistance training (strengthening your abs and back). But do not exercise in your corset – take it off, do your work out, take a shower and put the corset back on. As I mentioned in my previous Corsets and Muscles article: if you do your intense core resistance training at the very end of your workout, you take your shower and put the corset on within an hour of finishing your session (while the muscle fibers are still ‘broken’) then it’s possible for your oblique muscles to build themselves to the shape of the corset and retain more of an hourglass silhouette semi-permanently (even when not wearing the corset). Wearing your corset during your workout is not required for this! Let’s go into some of the reasons why I don’t recommend working out in your corset:

Exercising in your steel-boned corset may ruin your corset.

  • When you sweat profusely, the moisture, salt and pH of your sweat can damage the fibers of your corset. Silk eventually breaks down even in mildly acidic conditions, and the salt can be corrosive over time too (not to mention salt and sweat stains can make your corset look dingy).
  • If you happen to sweat on a regular basis in your corset, the fabric can become a breeding ground for microbes. Remember that mold and mildew absolutely love dark, moist, anaerobic environments like the inside of your corset, and this is not healthy to wear next to your skin for an extended amount of time!
  • Not only this, but the moisture can cause steel bones to rust over time. Remember that even galvanized (zinc-coated) or even stainless steel are not protected forever – over time with constant exposure to moisture and oxygen, they can form rust spots as well.
  • While you could wash your corset, detergents are often made from salts and have a very basic pH which can further compromise the integrity of your corset, not to mention submersing your corset in water can be a nightmare for the metal hardware.
  • Additionally, if you are moving vigorously in your corset (say you’re doing high-impact aerobics, kickboxing, lots of bending and twisting in your corset), it’s possible to warp the fabric if your corset over time or possibly even tear seams of your corset.
  • Weak corset bones (even some lower quality steel boning) can kink, warp or possibly even break with enough force, which may leave you with a misshapen and uncomfortable corset.

Overall, if you work out in your corset, you can expect your corset to have a considerably shorter lifespan.

Exercising in your steel-boned corset may potentially be dangerous for you.

  • If you’re not used to a certain level of activity in your corset, it can leave you winded or light-headed. A tight corset has been shown to decrease your total lung capacity between 10-30% depending on the restriction and the individual. If you’re used to intercostal breathing (taking breaths higher in your chest instead of “breathing into your abdomen), then at rest, this restriction may not be that noticeable because your tidal volume is only around 15% of your total lung capacity. However when doing hard cardio work, your body requires more of your lung capacity to draw in large breaths, it’s likely that you’ll feel that diminished capacity to a larger extent and you may feel short of breath.
  • Corsets can also increase blood pressure when worn, so do be careful when exercising in a corset, especially if you have a history of hypertension. It’s a common misconception that corset wearers feel faint because they feel short of breath – realistically speaking, when at rest, a corseter should be able to breathe relatively freely. From my research, fainting has more to do with abrupt changes in blood pressure, so a corseter would be more likely to faint if their blood pressure drops too low or too quickly – so do be aware of your own blood pressure levels, and if you do intend to exercise in your corset at all, then make sure you warm up very slowly, that you don’t go too hard and fast with your workout, and that you cool down slowly as well.

Although I don’t personally condone working out in your corset, I know several people who do. And these people have a few things in common:

  • They are all advanced waist trainers (at one point or another they have trained up to 23 hours a day, 6-7 days a week, and they are very familiar with how their body functions while laced).
  • They all own multiple corsets, and may consider some of their corsets to be expendable. This means that if a corset were to warp, rip or break during a workout (horrors!), they will have backup corsets so they’re able to continue waist training.
  • They all know how to make corsets – their experience and skill level may vary, but they have all made their own corsets and they understand exactly how much time, materials and labor go into each piece. Some of them are professional corsetieres, and testing out the strength and integrity of their own corsets would be beneficial as they’d be able to determine how much abuse their product can take, pinpoint and improve any potential weak spots in their construction, and set a specific guarantee.
  • The majority of them are also experienced athletes – they are already familiar with how their body works and feels when they’re pushing themselves in sports, and they would be able to recognize when they’re pushing themselves too far. One of them has worked as a personal trainer, another one does CrossFit and runs marathons, and many of these people have been seasoned athletes for years, some even before becoming interested in corsetry – so I trust that they know what they’re doing and how to read themselves if they are determined to work out in a corset.
  • I have heard of a few athletes who wear their corset in lieu of a weight-lifting belt in the gym. Although I have not personally tried this, I understand that if the corset were not tied too tightly, a short corset can function very similarly to a lifting belt. If anyone has tried this in the gym and has more information, I would be very interested to learn more from you!

In summary: I generally do not recommend exercising in a corset, and I personally have not and would not work out in my corset. Those few people who do exercise in their steel boned corsets, I trust that they are well-educated about the risks involved and understand how to minimize them, and it is their sole prerogative if they want to put this kind of strain on their corsets (and potentially their bodies as well).

Additional links on exercising while corseted have been kindly provided by KathTea Katastrophy; all from Staylace: (1) (2) (3)

Please note that this article contains my opinion and observations. It is provided for information purposes, and is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. Please contact your trusted physician if you would like to start or change your exercise regimen, or if you plan to wear a corset for any reason.

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