There’s something superhero about donning a pair of tight, high-waisted leggings. Your entire lower body is tight—sometimes down to your ribcage—and you feel ready to take on anything that comes your way. You feel fired up as you take on that strength workout, super confident in that spin class – and, let’s be honest, their tightness has a way of making you feel instantly fitter (especially compared to sweats), even when you’re not leaving the house all day.
But have you ever wondered if pants like these are actually problematic, physiologically? After all, we know corsets and corsets are bad news. Maybe you wondered after watching your body grow physically after taking off that pair of tight leggings you wore to that Pilates class, or seeing the marks they left behind when you wore a pair to the FMH all day.
Turns out, wearing tight, high-waisted pants can indeed impact your health, especially when it comes to your core and pelvic floor, a group of muscles and ligaments that support everything in your pelvis. Here, pelvic floor physical therapist Hayley Kava, PT, covers everything you need to know about what your favorite leggings might be doing to your body, and whether or not you should consider ditching them (or at least slipping into something). a little looser for your Netflix marathons).
The impact on your breathing, heart and pelvic floor
Let’s start with a little anatomy. “When we breathe in, our diaphragm, the muscle at the bottom of the lungs, moves down to pull air into our lungs,” Kava explains. This increases the pressure in the abdominal cavity (the large cavity in your torso that houses many organs). “Our abs and pelvic floor should also lengthen with an inhale to help us regulate this increased pressure,” she says.
“When we wear very tight high-waisted leggings that prevent us from allowing our abs to lengthen properly with an inhale, we can develop an ‘inverted’ breathing pattern,” Kava continues. In an inverted breathing pattern, we begin to keep our navel in when we breathe in – or all the time – “which can, in turn, cause us to keep our pelvic floor muscles ‘tight’ in response to the increased pressure with our breath,” she says. In other words, you begin to tighten, rather than lengthen, your abs and pelvic floor as you inhale, then release as you exhale.
This quick test can tell you if this might be a problem for you. Without thinking too much, breathe. If your stomach pulls in instead of pushing, you are breathing in an inverted pattern.
This may all sound like NBD, but “over time it can contribute to a number of different changes in our posture, core, and pelvic floor,” Kava says. The diaphragm is “the main connector between our upper and lower body, and so this increased pressure can both impact up or down chain function.”
This could manifest as or contribute to pelvic floor tension, urinary leakage, urinary urgency (i.e. not being able to wait to pee), constipation, painful intercourse, pelvic heaviness/pressure, or even things like lower back pain, hip pain, upper back pain or even neck pain, she says.
Wearing very tight pants and breathing in an inverted pattern can also lead to more “high chest” breathing, i.e. breathing through your neck, shoulders and back, which increases tension. in all of these areas,” says Kava.
Before ditching leggings forever. . .
None of this sounds good, does it? But like many things in life, moderation is key here, and there’s a time and a place for your favorite tight leggings. However, they could become a problem if you wear them day after day.
“We breathe over 20,000 times a day! If most of our day is spent breathing in this inverted pattern because of our pants, preventing proper movement of the trunk and pelvic floor, it can certainly affect our other aspects of our lives,” says Kava. .
Interestingly, Kava notes, “I think lounging in these types of pants has the potential to be more impactful than exercise…I think it may actually be less cumulative impact if you only wear them for workouts and you’re more form conscious despite the tightness of the pants – in fact I don’t mind a bit of even compression on a high waisted tight sometimes it can help you feel your breathing and your pelvic floor (especially if you’re just postpartum) This means that the sensory feedback that a tight pair of leggings gives you can actually help you be more aware of your core and breathing during a session. workout, potentially helping you stay on point with your form – and maybe even helping you remember to breathe into your belly to avoid reverse breathing.
That said, you might want to consider more casual pants for lounging, working from home, traveling, or wearing while you’re on your feet all day. And if you’re wondering if a certain pair of pants you own are too tight, try this review from Kava:
- Sit, stand, or lie down with your hands on your lower (outer) side ribs with your fingers extending across your abdomen.
- Take a few breaths.
- If you can inhale and “feel your ribs and abdomen lift, and the tights move with you and don’t dig in, then you’re in the clear,” she says. “If they leave marks, prevent you from feeling that movement with your breath, or if you’re tempted to pull in your belly with your inhale, they’re too tight.”
Both personally and as a recommendation for customers, Kava says she prefers seamless high waisted leggings. “If it can provide that nice, light compression without the breathing-interrupting compression, that’s a winner for me,” she says.
Rest assured that if you need or want to wear leggings that dig into some, “it might not be the end of the world for another hour or so,” Kava says. “But it can be helpful to do restorative breath work before, after, or even during to give your core, diaphragm, and pelvic floor a good reset and ensure you’re not building less-than-optimal habits.”
And hey, look on the bright side: you just have another excuse to wear sweatshirts.
Image source: Getty Images/Nyla Sammons