Working hunched over a desk or a kitchen table or reclined on a couch is probably ruining your posture. So is staring at your phone for prolonged periods of time or walking with your head down.
But what if you could wear something that made you sit just a little taller during the day? A company called Forme (previously called IFGfit Labs) has created shirts, leggings, and sports bras that physically help people shift their shoulders backward and better align their spines. The clothing not only helps relieve back problems—it also improves a person’s ability to breathe.
“If you wear [the clothes for] one to two hours a day in various activities for several weeks, you will start to see a noticeable change,” says Seiji Liu, cofounder and chief operating officer of Forme. “Over several weeks people will be able to stand taller.”
The Formewear signature men’s shirt has tension bands on the inside that pull shoulders back and down, so they sit where they’re supposed to. The sports bra physically pushes shoulders back so they form a straight line, perpendicular to the spine. The goal of this clothing is to assist people in having better posture as well as train them through muscle memory to maintain that posture. The leggings, both for men and women, are designed to encourage good form during cardio workouts.
Perhaps the greatest technological innovation in these clothes is good tailoring based on complicated biomechanics. Liu cofounded the company with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Stephen Liu, who now serves as chairman, and it’s clear that proving the technology actually works is important to the company. Formewear’s clothing is registered with the Food and Drug Administration as a 510(k) exempt medical device, which means that it has been reviewed by the agency, but doesn’t need to keep up with the rigorous efficacy standards of most clinical devices. Going through the trouble of working with the FDA mostly points to the seriousness with which the company takes its product. Formewear has also conducted several studies to prove that its product actually improves posture.
Formewear joins a growing cadre of spine-straightening innovations. Much of the existing technology is either a digital reminder system—for instance, Lumo Lift, where you wear a connected necklace or clip that alerts you when you’re hunching—or compression bands and braces, such as AlignMed shirts, that hold your body in place. But as Fast Company has reported in the past, people have a hard time sticking with these solutions, because they’re too ugly to wear or too uncomfortable.
Formewear has chosen a middle path. The clothing is not so restrictive. You can easily move or exercise without thinking too much about what you’re wearing. But the clothing will still keep your shoulders back. The bra, for example, makes it very difficult—if not a little painful—to hunch your shoulders forward. The straps start to dig into your shoulder if you force the issue for too long. However, it is otherwise very comfortable.
Formewear’s clothes could function as a possible solution to back pain, which as many as 8% of Americans suffer from. Improving posture is one way to strengthen your back and ultimately reduce back soreness and pain. The company’s studies provide evidence that its clothes do support better back health, though they won’t help you build muscle. The company completed a small study in 2018 that showed that those who wore Formewear saw a positive improvement in spinal support. However, it did not show significant muscle engagement while wearing the shirt.
But the most interesting study Formewear has participated in looks at how the clothing helped to expand chest circumference. The Institutional Review Board-approved study found that participants wearing Formewear’s shirt and/or bra were able to expand their chest when breathing significantly more than those who wore a control (Hanes) shirt. This indicated, to the researchers, that the Formewear shirt and bra helped improve lung capacity and respiratory functionality.
That finding has ostensibly led some people to use Formewear to help them recover from COVID-19. Mixed in among the 26 reviews of the Formewear shirt on its website are a couple of recent comments that said the shirt was “a life savior” and “helped my recovery.” One mentioned that it was their doctor who originally recommended the shirt to help them breathe better.
Of course, it takes work to permanently adopt that perfect posture and the lung capacity that comes with it. It requires exercising regularly so that your back becomes strong. Using Formewear’s clothing in tandem with a regular exercise regimen or physical therapy sessions may ultimately help you build stronger muscles while improving your posture.