the joy of strength training


October 28th, 2010 at 12:00 am

Why you shouldn’t train in front of a mirror

Squatting without any mirrors

Crossfit London has no mirrors...not even in the bathroom!

Avoid training in front of mirrors, even if your gym is surrounded by them. Mirrors will seriously affect your lifting, especially if you do the power lifts, the olympic lifts or any variations thereof. There are two important reasons why.

Be present in the lift

First, if you watch yourself in a mirror while you train you have a physical separation between what you feel and what you see. It is like watching another person lift.

This is distracting. Your brain tries to equate what it sees with what the body is doing, rather than just focus on the movement.

Your brain may even make adjustments mid-lift based on what the eyes are seeing, rather than what the body feels.

This is the wrong way round. When lifting it is vitally important to feel the movement. This applies whether you are learning a movement or are an old hand. If you can’t feel what is going on, you won’t know how to move differently to improve it and you won’t know what it feels like when you get it right!

You need to be present in the lift. I don’t believe you can truly be present if you are focussing on a representation of yourself in a mirror.

The mirror lies

Second, the view in the mirror is quite likely not a good view of the lift at all. In the big, important exercises like the squat, deadlift, snatch, clean and jerk, the front view is not the optimal angle to see what is going on in the lift. The side and the back view are much more relevant.

So watching yourself from the front could result in you not seeing any issues in the lift, or fixating on something that is very minor while missing the larger problem.

Filming yourself and watching it back, or having a coach or friend to watch your lifts are good ways to monitor form and technique, but your ultimate aim should be to know by feel what is going on in the lift.

This process takes a while to learn, especially if you don’t have good body awareness (I don’t!). But I don’t believe that looking in a mirror will help with this process.

Training in the hall of mirrors

What if you train in a gym surrounded by mirrors? A simple solution is to turn around and face into the centre of the room. It might feel weird at first, and you might get some odd looks, but it is a much better position to lift in.

Sometimes the mirror is simply unavoidable – for example if the squat rack is right in front of a mirror as in the photo below and you cannot squat facing the other way.

Squatting in a squat rack in front of a mirror

Mirrors everywhere! A common but unfortunate scenario

In cases like this, the best thing you can do is try not to look at yourself. Focus on a spot on the wall in the background and tune out the image of yourself in the foreground. With enough concentration it is possible not to notice yourself!

Alternatively, suggest to the gym manager that they could move the squat rack to a bit of blank wall. Or change your gym. There are a growing number of gyms which have few or no mirrors at all.

Bodytribe gym with no mirrors

Bodytribe. No mirrors - only iron. And art.

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  • 1

    Totally agreed. So glad one of the Armoury power racks is in front of bare wall. Mirrors are handy for checking out the totty though :p

    Alex B on October 28th, 2010
  • 2

    I find the squat rack the easiest place to avoid facing the wall of mirrors. I simply back up to the bar, instead of ducking under, and lift it onto my back. The deadlift platform? I’m stuck. And I so wish they would position it sidewise to the mirrors. But then all those boys doing curls there wouldn’t know how buff they look doing them.

    deb roby on October 29th, 2010
  • 3

    Good idea deb! I guess it’s slightly trickier to replace the bar in that rack that way round but I am sure that can be overcome.

    gubernatrix on October 29th, 2010
  • 4

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  • 5

    This article is spot on and is absolutely correct in my experience.

    The squat rack at my gym faces a mirror just like the one in the photo featured in this post. The fact it’s in front of a mirror is largely irrelevant for me.

    I look at a point in the wall in front of me just above the point where the floor meets the wall. The skirting board if you will. There is a scuff mark down there, a small black line and that’s where I keep my attention fixed during the set of squats.

    I’ve seen Mark Rippetoe recommend this on videos on YouTube and I’ve seen some of the guys on the 70s Big website ( doing a similar thing in their videos.

    This doesn’t mean that my neck is bent forward at all. Possibly a touch but you would hardly notice it. I actually stand a fair way back from the rack over the “pins” and it’s actually my eyeballs that move in order to keep focused on the same point, not my head or neck.

    When using the rack for pressing I look at the letter H on the TechnoGym logo on the “crossbar” of the rack. It’s not a mirror and it’s a fixed point. I’ve only been doing that for about 2 months but it’s the single biggest improvement to my pressing technique that I have implemented, because even when I do everything else correctly but look in the mirror, the bar always drifts away from my face and my lower body goes all lose and I miss the lift.

    Deadlifting is fine as I just do it anywhere in the gym where there is space on the floor and it’s just a case of turning my back on the mirror.

    Gary on October 31st, 2010
  • 6

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  • 8

    Hi! I just found your blog and can’t wait to dig in. I learned several months back that the mirror is my enemy. I especially avoid it when performing deads and squats. Thanks for reaffirming my notion. Good stuff!

    Kellie on November 12th, 2010
  • 9

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  • 11

    I agree with this, unless i am shadow boxing, this is why i like to train in my garage and face away from the mirror on the wall.

    Do you not find a similar thing with noise? i tend to train with almost relaxing music (radio 2 tbh), i find hard rock etc distracting from the workout.

    tentigers on November 20th, 2010
  • 12

    Hi mate!
    Yeah, with the noise thing I have changed my mind in the last year. I used to think that motivating music helped, but now I train in a gym where they have a very inoffensive radio station on in the background and I haven’t missed the motivation at all. Olympic weightlifting doesn’t go well with pumped up music, it’s too distracting.

    I found the same with running. When I first started, I always used to wear my ipod because I felt I needed the motivation of music to push me through. But eventually I weaned myself off the music and came to prefer running without.

    gubernatrix on November 21st, 2010
  • 13

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  • 14

    Another option is to close your eyes except when you are walking out or reracking the bar or maybe during the end of the set as you get fatigued.

    This makes you less stable so probably you will lower the weight a bit, but in the long run I bet it’d help with awareness.

    Tyciol on December 19th, 2010
  • 15

    I have never thought about the mirror as being a distraction but this article does make sense.

    Cheers for the post 🙂

    mma store on February 24th, 2011
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  • 19

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