The Mirror Myth

The Mirror Myth

20 Dec 2014  |  2 Comments

A dogma that has plagued the fitness industry for many years is the importance of mirrors in the weight training area. This dogma has, in recent years come under fire, with many modern health facilities removing mirrors and replacing with qualified coaches to spot and critique form. Below are a six points on a modern approach to mirrors in the weights room.

I need the mirror to see my form . . .

Actually, the exact opposite is true. You don’t need to see form, you need to feel it. This is known as proprioception, and is the body’s ability to know where it is in time and space. This is a co ordinated effort between the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system to communicate efficiently, and govern motor control as required.

There is a tone of literature in this area of sport science, dating all the way back to some of the early Russian weightlifting coaches actually training their lifters blindfolded or in a dark room (and in some cases with ear plugs also).  Some writing on the topic can be found in “Supertraining” by Mel C Siff PHD. The science shows that when we lower the input from senses like sight and even hearing to a lesser extent, the movements are actually performed with greater precision and stability.

How’s your posture?

When we are focused on looking at ourselves while exercising, our posture changes. The head and neck need to move so you can see your reflection, which in every case will result in a change of posture. This can be seen in any commercial gym, just walk into the weights room at any time of the day and look for someone doing arm curls side on to the mirror, and looking at their guns while they train.

There is a biomechanical relationship between the Jaw, Neck and Shoulder and lifting weights with your head turned to the side will result in a disruption of these structures. This will manifest into neck pain, a wry neck, shoulder and jaw pain.

The nerves that innervate the arms also run through the neck and shoulder, and by turning the head you are placing the nerves in a stretched or impinged position, this will result in less then optimal neutral recruitment.

But where will I take my selfies?!?!?!

Buy a selfy pole. Or you could try the old fashion method and have a friend take the photo.

The best way to lower your self esteem . . .

A great deal of studies has been performed on the results of exercising in front of the mirror. Many of which on woman, and the Psychological impact the mirror had.

Findings showed clearly that the mirror increased feelings of anxiety and lowering of self esteem. The presence of mirrors also leads to social comparison and results in a further lowering of self-efficacy and increased negative feelings. The results were a much higher drop out rate in fitness regimes, and poorer fat loss results when compared to a control group.

Katula et al. (1998), Lamarche, Gammage & Strong (2009), Focht and Hausenblas’s (2003), Gammage, Martin Ginis, and Hall (2004)

The world is full of distractions.

It has been postulated that we now live in the “Age of distraction”. Authors like Neil Postman in his book “Amusing ourselves to death” have proposed that human attention span is decreasing as technology increases. Studies performed by Kermit Pattison show that on average we are distracted every 3 minutes and 5 seconds, but it takes on average 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task.

It is any wonder we struggle to complete a training session when gyms are surrounded with wall to wall mirrors, flat screen televisions and smart phones are common place.

Flow, is the mental state one achieves when you are completely immersed in a task or activity and achieve a state of full involvement, focus and enjoyment in the process. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the leading researcher and author of the book “flow” talks about the spontaneous joy and rapture felt when one achieves a state of flow. This concept has been widely referenced in a variety of fields and across the ages in various forms.

By loosing oneself in a skillful activity (like a gymnastics class for instance) one can forget oneself for a period and achieve great feelings of happiness and satisfaction. That is, unless the person gets distracted . . .

A better solution.

The best practice is to have a skilled coach giving you verbal and physical guidance and feedback on your quality of movement. It is also the only way you can focus on your proprioception while being guided by something other then your visual senses. The value of a good coach cannot be overstated.

Another modern practice is to set up a camera to record the movement, then watch the movement while resting between sets. This can be seen in many of the state of the art National level training facilities around the world, where cameras and digital screens (out of the field of vision) play on a 15 second delay.

At Lift Performance Centre we provide both. Skilled coaches always happy to help, and a Go Pro on a camera stand with a Wi-Fi connection back to an iPad with record and delay functionality.


Staying on the cutting edge of any industry means regularly questioning the dogma and challenging the status quo. This article is a short list of conclusions I have come too on the topic of mirrors in the weights room, up until now. The future is dynamic new information on the topic of health and wellness is always shedding new light on old questions. In the words of an exceptional Coach Christopher Sommer “If you can show me something that you do, that is better then what I do, I will change it immediately!”