If you’re embarking on a new fitness lifestyle, you may come across the term “corset training.” This can be confusing because the word "corset" can refer to a girdle-like garment worn around the middle to train the tummy to stay tucked in. But “corset” can also refer to the complex of muscles that envelope the abdominal cavity, from the rib cage to the pelvis. Corsets are back, thanks in part to Kim Kardashian -- not to mention Beyoncé, Jessica Alba, and Jennifer Garner -- all of whom enlist the help of a waist-training corset for their hour glass figures.
Do They Work?
Waist-training corsets are used to make the waist smaller by compressing the stomach and squeezing the fat cells. And they can show some results -- in the short run. According to the book Waist Training 101, by corset marketeer Vanna B., waist-training slims the waist "semi-permanently," meaning that the results linger for awhile after the corset is taken off but wear off once the corset it unlaced. If a steel-ribbed corset is worn long enough, she writes, it can reshape the lower ribs and redistribute but not get rid of fat. If this makes diet and exercise sound like the more appealing alternative, read on.
Working Out in Corsets
You can certainly work out in corsets, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea. In fact, the general consensus among experts is that it's probably a bad idea, even if Ms. Kardashian does it. The problems with working out in a corset are the same as wearing them to go to the grocery: they squash your internal organs, impinge on your lung capacity and deprive you of oxygen. Victorian women frequently fainted because of this.
Working the Natural Corset
If you're inclined to achieve a narrow waist in a more holistic way, meet the transverse abdominus, the most corset-like of the abdominal muscles. It's like a muscular lap-band that wraps around the lower abdomen, gently keeping the stomach and other internal organs tucked in place. Along with other muscles, including the obliques, paraspinal and gluteal muscles, and the pelvic floor and hip girdle, it contributes to a balanced gait by by stabilizing the trunk and lower back. Corset muscles are also commonly referred to as the “core.”
Corset exercises are an insurance policy against injury, and to solidify balance into old age. But where to begin working them? Strengthening your corset muscles effectively requires doing exercises that get the hips, trunk and shoulders to work in harmony with gravity and torque.
It’s best to start with muscles called “local stabilizers,” which attach directly to vertebrae. Abdominal hollowing and bracing exercises serve to tone and improve control of these muscles. From there, these muscles can be strengthened and toned by performing traditional strength training activities such as curl-ups, chest presses and bridge on a Swiss ball. Another starter exercise is diaphragmatic breathing, which causes contraction of the transverse abdominus and the pelvic floor muscles.
According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), stabilizing muscles are most responsive to isometric exercises with positions maintained to extend time the muscle is under tension or low-intensity exercises done for greater numbers of repetitions.
Core on the Floor
ACE recommends the following exercises for achieving initial core, or corset, stability.
Kneel on the mat on all fours with your legs and hands slightly apart. Raise your arm out straight beside your head while raising and extending your leg on the opposite side up out behind the body. Lower your arm and leg to the floor to the original position and repeat. Perform the movement with your opposite arm and leg.
Lie prone on the mat. Place your forearms on the mat, elbows under your shoulders. Place your legs together with your forefeet on the floor. Raise your body upward and extend it into a straight line. Hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds.
Lying on your right side with your legs straight and your left leg stacked directly on top of the right, bend the right elbow and place it directly under your shoulder. Align your head with your spine with your hips and your right knee in contact with the exercise mat. Exhale, bracing your spine with engaged abdominals. Raise your hips and knees off the mat. The side of right foot remains on mat. Keep your head aligned with your spine and keep your right elbow positioned directly under your shoulder. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
Lie supine on your mat with your arms to your sides. Place your feet flat on floor or mat with your knees bent. Raise your hips up off the floor until your hips are straight. Hold the position 15 to 30 seconds.