I Tried ‘Posture-Correcting’ Workout Clothes to See If It Really Improved My Performance

Plus, what a physical therapist thinks of the trend.
workout clothes
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

In the past couple of years, I’ve noticed something disheartening: My posture sucks. And the results of it show up when I want them to least: in my running.

If I’m not doing a speed session (which generally encourages more efficient form), my shoulders cave inward, my hips lock up, and my lower back aches. I’ve also noticed it on the Pilates reformer, and have even been corrected by coaches while weight lifting. It makes me think I’m not getting the most out of my workouts when my posture’s off.

As a certified running coach and longtime health and fitness writer, I’m pretty sure I can point to the cause of it. I spend a lot of time hunched over my computer or cell phone. That can have some distinct physical effects: Prolonged sitting can cause posture changes, like the flattening of the spine’s normal curve and chronic muscle deconditioning, which can make your muscles fatigue faster during workouts, research in the journal Medicina found. Meanwhile, joint imbalances caused by poor posture can limit the movement of your muscles and tendons, which can make going through the proper range of motion that you need during exercise difficult. Not ideal!

So when I came across the apparel brand Forme, I was intrigued. The company claims its patented posture-correcting technology retrains your body via continual biofeedback—by using the tension of the fabric to naturally roll your shoulders back and down while opening up your chest and hips—to improve muscle memory, so “great posture becomes second nature.” Clearly, I’m terrible at reminding myself to sit or stand up tall, so I was curious to see if workout gear could do the trick.

For over two weeks, I wore the Power Bra ($168, formescience.com), which purports to reduce neck, back, and shoulder pain, as well as the Sculpt+ Leggings ($138, formescience.com), which claims to do likewise for back pain, sciatica, or hip pain—both of which the company gifted me to try out.

It may sound wild, but Forme isn’t the only company testing these waters, and scientists have been looking into the potential of posture-correcting garments too. In a small 2021 study published in the International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, researchers developed a posture modification system (PMSS) by attaching textile elastic bands to a compression garment to mimic the structure and support of the back muscles (kind of like the Forme bra). They found that when people wore the device during a whole bunch of different positions—from simply standing to wearing a backpack to carrying a shoulder bag—it did lead to positive changes. These included better balance in the shoulders, a more aligned center of gravity from side to side, and a straighter spine.

So I got to testing. I wore the bra and leggings during multiple 30- to 60-minute runs and in several 50-minute Pilates classes. The first time I pulled on the sports bra—which uses six fabrics of varied tension and eight double-fabric panels to adjust spinal posture—I did feel a noticeable shift, mostly in the way my shoulders were pulled back: When I looked in the mirror, it did seem like I was standing taller.

But I didn’t really feel that shift translate into postural changes during specific movements; as I watched myself in the mirror during one Pilates class, I still had to actively think about pulling my shoulders back during standing moves like lunges and squats. And the more I wore the bra, the less powerful that initial feeling was. Over the course of an 18-mile run, for example, I still hunched my shoulders like I do when wearing a traditional sports bra.

As for the leggings, I felt no difference from my standard compression tights. Forme says its patented 3D waistband alignment technology engages muscle memory in your core, glutes, and spine to better your alignment, stability, and mobility. But the only difference I really felt was the high waist digging slightly uncomfortably into my midsection when I moved.

After wearing both products through multiple workouts over the course of two weeks—and a surprisingly super-comfy 11-hour flight to Japan—I have to say I’m skeptical about its posture benefits. FWIW, the brand recommends wearing their apparel for four to six hours throughout the day for four to six months to improve posture, so I can’t say for sure that following this to a T wouldn’t have led to more dramatic results.

It made me wonder, though: Should I have felt a bigger change? I connected with physical therapist and certified run roach Victoria Sekely, DPT, CSCS, for some intel.

When I told her about my experience, she wasn’t surprised. “Saying that there’s one perfect posture is not true,” Dr. Sekely tells SELF. And searching for that likely won’t bring the pain or injury benefit you may think.

Turns out, the emphasis on “good posture” is more of an old-school way of thinking that’s not really backed by research anymore, she says. Instead of needing to correct poor posture—which has become basically synonymous with slouching—what your body actually craves is change.

“Putting yourself in a different position—by, say, putting on this bra—will immediately make you feel better,” Dr. Sekely says. “But it’s not because the position’s better, it’s because the position is different.”

Any position, whether that’s curled over your cell phone or sitting at your desk with a ramrod-straight back, can be painful if you stay in it long enough. “Your best posture,” she adds, “is your next posture.” The name of the game, then, is to take movement breaks to get your body used to changing positions.

In fact, that 2021 study in the International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics declared “the PMSS is not intended as a therapeutic device to correct posture abnormalities or as a long-term solution to less-than-ideal posture.” Rather, the study authors wrote, it should be viewed as an instant posture corrector or, essentially, shapewear. And when looking at other related literature, researchers determined that there’s no real evidence supporting posture-correcting shirts as a tool for pain relief, according to a 2019 review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Pain.

What’s more, reliance on these products can reinforce the notion that “bad” posture will definitely lead to pain. “It's almost scaring people by implying, ‘Your form’s bad. You have to wear this to improve it.’ And that’s not true,” Dr. Sekely says. “Just start moving, and your body’s going to figure it out.”

Personally, I don’t think the bra or the leggings did anything to fix my posture. What I do think, though, is that they served as a reminder that sometimes I could stand to adjust my posture—maybe into a better or more efficient position. And when I did, I generally felt better (even if the effect didn’t last long-term).

If the only benefit of posture-correcting clothes is self-awareness; that’s not necessarily a bad thing—it just might be an expensive one. But relying on a piece of apparel to do the work for you is like using supplements to make up for missing out on a nutrient-rich diet. Instead of using either the bra or the leggings as a crutch, let them serve as a reminder to stay aware of your body and move it regularly. After all, you’ll already be in the appropriate gear to do so.