Squatting In Front Of A Mirror Is A Bad Idea
Mirrors are popular fixtures in health clubs. Squat racks in weight rooms of commercial gyms are often positioned in front of mirrors and many personal trainers use mirrors during their sessions. This must mean that mirrors should be used when performing lifts like squats, right? Wrong. Squatting in front of a mirror is a bad idea.
During the construction phase of my gym (Bamboo Core Fitness), I decided there would be no mirrors in my studio, no exceptions. It has been over two years since I signed my lease and I am still very happy with this decision. This post will explore why I believe a mirror is a bad tool to use during lifting, especially when squatting.
Squatting is essential, don’t screw up your form by looking at mirrors
Squatting is a natural human movement skill, a practical movement that does not require mirrors to perform. When you were a baby/toddler learning how to squat, you did not need mirrors. Adults don’t need them either.
The full squat is one of the most useful exercises inside and outside of the weight room, as it builds strength, mobility, balance, power and size. The squat recruits your core musculature and the entire posterior chain and works on all of the muscles that contribute to jumping, pulling and pushing the lower body. It is an essential skill that should be included in all fitness regimens.
If you use a mirror during your squat training, you will limit your opportunity for efficiency, hinder progression and may even become injured. Here are some reasons why:
Feedback is limited with the frontal plane
There are three planes of motion – transverse, frontal and sagittal. A mirror only provides you feedback about one out of three planes, the frontal plane. The frontal plane divides the body into front and back and is the plane that provides you with the least amount of information about your body position and balance. It is not the optimal angle to see what is going on in your lift because forward and backward movement is extremely difficult to detect from this view. It is also hard to assess depth and the relationship between the patellas (kneecaps) and hips from this direction.
To see depth better, a view of the sagittal plane would be more helpful. However, if you plan on using a mirror to get a visual of the sagittal plane, you should rethink your decision. To see yourself at this angle, you would have to rotate your neck and look toward the side, a risky movement that would place your cervical vertebrae at risk for injury.
Also, gaining feedback via visual cues is not always the best method.
Mirrors diminish kinesthetic awareness of squatting
While squatting, it is important to be present in the lift. Sensory input is much more responsive when you put more emphasis on how your body feels during the squat, and not how it looks.
It is necessary for your body to sense how it is moving through space during the squat and it is equally important for the body to feed this information back to the brain, a sensory skill known as kinesthetic sense or proprioception. Kinesthetic awareness has to be developed during squatting or you will never learn how to properly squat. To be able to get into a good position, to know how to engage your hamstrings and glutes, or how to keep your knees out as you descend and ascend from your squat, your muscles need to first know what each of these positions feels like.
When you pay attention to all of the proprioceptive input provided to you when squatting by focusing how things feel – the weight, pressure and balance over your balance point, the sense of how your back is positioned, and the bar in your hands, your sensory input will be much richer than what will be provided visually with a mirror. Using a mirror to visually gather this information will diminish your kinesthetic awareness.
Mirrors are very distracting during a lift. They will reflect all movements occurring in your surroundings, things that should not be present while squatting. Lifting involves and requires neuromuscular focus and the brain is quite sensitive to visual movement, which makes activity in your typical gym rather distracting. In a gym, when you face a mirror while you squat, you will see guys and gals checking themselves (and each other) out in the distance, people walking behind and next to you, knuckleheads doing stupid (and bizarre) things, and much more. All of these distractions will reduce your kinesthetic experience, thus negatively impacting your form. This will cause undesirable squatting results.
Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult to avoid a mirrored room.
What to do if your fitness facility has mirrors
If switching gyms is not an option, there are a few things you can do when squatting in a mirrored room.
- When setting up to squat, make sure you are not relying on visual input. Provided that you are in a safe position, turn your body away from the mirrors and face toward the center of the room or look at a blank wall. Enlist the help of a friend to spot you during the lift. If the squat rack/cage has pins or j-hooks that allow you to set the barbell in a manner that it is facing away from the mirror (with your back toward the mirror), do so.
- Cover the mirror with a sweatshirt or mat. A solid color shower curtain or sheet also does the job.
- Tell the gym manager your concerns and ask if it would be possible to move the squat rack away from the mirror(s).
- If none of this is possible, focus on one point on the mirror as if you were trying to look through it instead of at it. Do not attempt to assess your technique and form by using the mirror. Remember, visual feedback provided by a mirror is not ideal during a lift.
How to find out if you are lifting with correct technique (without using a mirror)
If the thought of not looking at a mirror freaks you out, do not worry. There are a couple things you can do to make sure your squat is being performed with correct form.
- Hire a coach or ask someone who has lifting experience to review your squatting technique.
- Record a video of yourself performing the squat. Do this from several angles. Study the feedback and make necessary corrections. There is no need for a fancy video camera. A smartphone’s video feature will suffice. I frequently record myself performing movement skills. Sometimes I use a GoPro camera, but I often use my iPhone 5s. Using my phone is useful because I can see playback instantly and I can even record in slow motion. Occasionally I will use a coaching app such as Coach’s Eye. This allows me to do on-the-spot video analysis.
When squatting, ditch the mirrors. They are unnecessary tools in the weight room and will do more harm than good. Rely on proprioception, kinesthetic awareness and the advice of a professional coach to give you the feedback you need to improve technique and performance.
Find a workout area free from mirrors. If this is not possible, turn away from the mirror while squatting (if safe) or cover the mirror.
Learn how to not depend on mirrors. When you do not rely on mirrors, the efficiency of your squatting will improve and will translate to better performance inside and outside of the gym.
Only use mirrors to admire your pumped-up muscles and Adonis-like body in between sets. 😉
What are your thoughts?
- Yay or nay?
- Do you agree that mirrors should not be used during squatting?
- Do you disagree and feel they are a necessary tool?
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below this post. I would love to know what you think! In the meantime, find that blank wall and squat away!
When she is not slaying fat and building muscle, Jennifer can be found trekking barefoot, traveling, cooking and refining her photography skills. She also enjoys reading and writing about food culture, history and the science of human movement.