A Gym Without Mirrors

Imagine this for a second…

You’re on your way to the gym for another killer workout. On your way there, in your head you’re running through all the exercises you’re planning to do. You get there, you change, you hook up your music, and you head on inside psyched to get started.

Only something is different.

Something is…missing.

You look around and realize that, for some reason, all the mirrors are missing. They’re gone. Every single mirror has been taken down.

How would you react?

How would the absence of this overlooked but apparently intricate component of the gym affect your workout? How would you get through your exercises? We are so used to looking at ourselves in the mirror as we go about our workouts that it would be completely unnatural to go through our routine without one.

And that’s exactly the point.

The reality is that, for the most part, eliminating all the mirrors in the gym would actually improve your workout. It would improve your technique, it would improve your body awareness and it would help you build a better body.

Now I’m pretty sure that there’s a lot of you out there that would completely disagree. In fact, I’m sure there are some of you out there who think that you simply can’t  work out effectively without a mirror.

That’s OK. I expected that. But, my reasoning is two-fold.

First, I think that deep down both you and I know that most people use the mirror to check themselves out more than anything. A complete waste of time in my opinion. Everybody does it. But it’s normal – we want results and the mirror speaks the truth. As long as mirrors are there, we will continue to look at them.

But it’s the second reason that begs me to write this article and I’m sure this will answer a lot of questions.

The mirror is a tool that we use to get feedback. It gives us information. It lets us examine our technique and make changes accordingly. Now this would be great if we weren’t being fed incomplete information. You see, the mirror is only capable of giving us information from one plane – the frontal one in 99% of situations. We use the information we get from the frontal plane to make changes in other planes, which I think is completely ineffective and can result in flawed techniques, which we all know can lead to both acute and chronic injuries.

What’s my solution?

The best solution would be to replace your visual feedback system with a kinesthetic one. You need to learn how to feel that you’re performing an exercise correctly, not just see it. To do this, you will need assistance from an experienced trainer who can watch your form for a particular exercise as you perform it and tell you exactly what changes you need to make. While doing this, you will learn what good form feels like and you’ll be able to do it on your own with only your kinesthetic sense giving you feedback. You won’t need a mirror anymore.

Of course, this isn’t always possible. Experienced trainers are not always accessible and finding a gym with no mirrors would be like finding a needle in a haystack.

But I hope you get the message I’m trying to get across here. You need to learn how to use your kinesthetic sense as a form of feedback. You need to learn how to feel that you’re performing an exercise correctly because, after all, that is the most reliable form of feedback you have.

17 thoughts on “A Gym Without Mirrors”

  1. Mirror reflects the truth so I like what you’ve conveyed here. We should workout correctly, by doing it the right way we’re only helping ourselves. There may be times when we feel like skipping it or doing it at our convenience. By that won’t be correct,that won’t be the same, same as we see in a mirror.

  2. I think you are right. I know of other trainers that say you should not use a mirror. I use them because they are there, but sometimes they are distracting and you are concentrating on checking out your form in the mirror, but lose the feel of the exercise, which is what you are saying.

    So yes I think the feel is much more important, and I will try to get away from the mirrors in the future.

    1. I guess it’s easier said than done when you have mirrors absolutely everywhere. I noticed that at my gym they’ve started to get rid of some. Maybe it’s a step in the right direction.

  3. I have a private studio and the only mirror I have in it is in the washroom.

    I coach everyone so I tell them what they need to correct. When they do it right a few times they fel it and know what is right.

    Looking at your self changes the angle of your head. It also takes your mind out of the exercise. You are looking at yourself and thinking about what you see. What you need to be thinking is about is the rep at hand.

    1. I think that’s exactly what a real gym should operate like, Jason. Great job. Unfortunately, for large scale gyms to adapt to this philosophy, they would have to invest in more educated, higher-quality trainers. Instead, they fill their gym with easy to use (isolation-style) equipment that is not only easy (read: ineffective) to use, but is also a much cheaper investment (you don’t need highly educated trainers to teach someone how to operate an elliptical bike). It seems to always come down to the bottom line.

      What do you think?

  4. Hey Srdjan! 😉

    Great point: with my athletes, we use no mirrors, especially in the O lifts and assistance o lifts, since they only distract and athletes “need to know exactly where they are at all times”, just as you explained up there.

    Thanks Dude,

    Mark

  5. YESSSS! Finally.. someone who knows what they are talking about. I’ll also extend on this point of ‘feeling’.

    The infamous mind-muscle connection. Kai Greene keeps harping on about this in his popular bodybuilding videos but most ‘experts’ conveniently ignore it because it’s very difficult to cultivate. It’s so important to focus on the muscle you are targeting and make sure no other muscle groups are being recruited in the process.

    Also, 95% of all people who look in the mirror do so to admire their own muscles as they expand and contract. They are not interested in feedback.. I can tell you that much.

    But thank you for bringing this into light. You need to be able to feel your way through a well executed rep. You can only do that when your mind and body are in unison. That mind-muscle connection is key. It’s also mentally taxing to build because when we are tired, we all tend to ‘go through to motions’ to try and finish the set. Suddenly, the quality of your reps doesn’t matter because ‘you gotta get those 10 reps no matter what’. Leaving one’s ego at the door is not so easy after all. Most of us tend to compromise our form when we begin struggling during a set.. all in the name of completing all the reps.

    But making sure every rep is perfectly executed while also working to control your movements precisely WHILE also making sure that muscles that aren’t needed are not helping out… that’s very hard to do when lactic acid is setting fire to your muscles. That, I feel, is sometimes the difference between looking good and looking great.

    Cheers,

    Tank .A.

    1. Thanks for the great comment Tank! There is one thing that you said that I have a comment on. When I’m targeting a particular muscle group, I don’t focus to isolate it. I actually focus on contracting every single muscle in my body. This is something I learned from Pavel in his book Power to the People. He explains how contracting every single muscle group in your body teaches your nervous system to produce greater overall contractions (thus greater lifts).

      So, for example, if I’m doing a bench press, I’ll focus on the movement and I’ll focus on contracting my pecs, my triceps, my shoulders, my core – all the muscles that support my efforts in pressing that bar up. I’ve found this has made a HUGE difference in my lifts.

  6. I do ballet as my prior sport and we know we can depend on mirrors very much. We always notice if my teacher puts them away! I agree with you, it’s important to feel the way your body is moving. Though I think mirrors are there to reflect, so maybe it should be a 50-50 thing.

    1. Hey Sanne. I think mirrors can be effective if we know how to get proper feedback from them. I’m not very familiar with ballet, but I’m assuming you were using the mirror to make sure that your technique was correct. Would you say the feedback you got was sufficient?

      And it’s always a balance that you’re looking for. Use the feedback you get from the mirror to make necessary adjustments but also learn how to feel proper technique.

      1. Yeah a lot of things to see in the mirror, for example, when you hold your leg up in the air, if it is in a perfect 90 degrees angle with your body or not. Also when I look into the mirror I try to remember the feeling. Very important to remember that feeling for repeating the movement in situations without a mirror, like on stage.

        So, yeah what you say, a balance is important. To get to a point you actually do it perfectly without a mirror. I don’t know about this goal in fitness though!

        1. In the gym, you’re trying to accomplish similar things. You want to memorize certain movement patterns and learn how to feel good technique (just like you would in ballet) so if you didn’t have a mirror you would be fine. Just make sure you are remember the right feeling.

  7. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I truly appreciate your efforts and I am waiting for your further post thank you once again.

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