workout, mirrors, fitness, form, improving, gym, barre

When Mirrors Help (And Hinder) Your Workout

A little self-reflection can improve a session, but only under certain circumstances.

Whether we're swinging kettlebells, mastering jabs, or striking fierce warrior poses, there’s a good chance we can catch a sweat-bedecked glance of ourselves. Mirrors have the ability to boost our self-esteem, catapult our workouts, and help perfect our form, hence it’s no wonder we turn to them nearly two dozen times per day. But while reflections can prove a valuable tool in our training arsenal, they can easily be misused.

Webb Travis, a Newport Beach-based Tier 3+ personal trainer and group fitness instructor, confirms that mirrors do, indeed, have their advantages—especially when it comes to weight training. “Just because a client sees me do an exercise doesn’t mean they understand how it feels,” he says. “I’ll put them in front of a mirror, so they can see where every joint needs to be, where their alignment should be, and how their weight should be dispersed.”

And while Travis encourages the use of mirrors to build body awareness, he deters his clients from becoming too dependent on them, which can lead to injuries sparked by misalignment. “One time during class, everyone was properly doing a bent-over row, chest out with one foot back—but they were looking up at the mirror,” he says. “Looking at the mirror in that position is the same as standing and looking straight up at the ceiling. It’s not how the neck is supposed to move.”

Still, Travis admits the many benefits of mirrors in a fitness class, from helping back-of-house attendees to see the instructor, to enhancing periphery vision. And, of course, there’s the competition factor. “It’s good to look around the room and get motivation from other people,” he says. “You can pick someone to keep up with, creating that camaraderie and rivalry at the same time.”

But what about classes that don’t promote competition? Dani Carroll, an Orange County-based yoga instructor, leads classes with mirrors and without them, depending on the focus of the class. “If we’re talking about turning inward I’ll close the curtain, explaining the opportunity to build trust within yourself," she says. “If you’re not looking for answers internally, you might find criticisms externally, thinking ‘my hair looks bad,’ ‘my makeup is running,’ or ‘wow, that woman behind me, her reflection is so beautiful’ — and that’s not yoga, that’s ego,” she explains. “If everyone walked into the room looking around at others, no one would be practicing yoga, everyone would be practicing ego.”