The Benefits of Exercising Without a Mirror, According to Fitness Experts – Shape Magazine

You’d be hard-pressed to find a big-box gym that’s completely free of mirrors. After all, the looking glasses are seen as indispensable tools, necessary to complete challenging movements with proper form — and, of course, snap post-workout selfies.
But to some fitness coaches, mirrors are anything but essential, and leaving them out of fitness spaces can actually help you get more out of your workouts, both physically and mentally. Ahead, personal trainers and yoga instructors share the benefits of exercising mirror-free and what to keep in mind if you decide to ditch the mirror yourself.
Personal trainer Nathalie Huerta has always thought that mirrors within fitness spaces are, put simply, “fucking weird,” she says. “When you look at your reflection and other people are looking at you, it feels more uncomfortable than helpful for me just in my own workout experience.” While looking at your body as you perform biceps curls, for example, could theoretically help you with your form, “if you don’t have the knowledge to realize, ‘I’m seeing bad form in my reflection,’ that feedback from the mirror is irrelevant,” says Huerta. In other words, unless you can detect minor form slip-ups and know how to properly self-correct them, a reflection of your body isn’t all that valuable.
As Huerta prepped to open her own fitness space catering to the LGBTQIA2S+ community, The Queer Gym, back in 2010, she realized mirrors were not only ineffective but also contributed to “gymtimidation.” “For us, particularly [as we’re] serving the queer community, it made even more sense not to include mirrors because queer people deal with a lot of body dysmorphia, more so than common folks,” she explains. “And if you’re not feeling safe, comfortable, welcome, and included, guess what? You’re probably not going to go to the gym.”
This potential uneasiness among clientele, combined with the high price tag, literal breakability, and unhelpful nature of mirrors, drove Huerta to exclude them entirely from her Oakland, California–based facility. (FTR, The Queer Gym now runs entirely online.) And, frankly, their presence wasn't missed, she says. Clients loved working out in an inclusive, mirror-free space, explains Huerta. Plus, coaches were available during every workout to assist with any necessary form adjustments, she adds.
Huerta isn’t alone in her decision to kick mirrors to the curb. Morit Summers, an NSCA-certified personal trainer, has just two standard-size, full-length mirrors in her gym, Form Fitness Brooklyn in NYC. “We didn’t want people to feel like they had to be looking in mirrors — that’s just not a thing everybody loves to do,” she says.
But instilling confidence and comfort isn't the only benefit of ditching mirrors in gyms; going mirror-free also helps promote bodily awareness, says Summers. "Just feeling your own body through space, being really aware of your muscles and your movement yourself is really important," she explains. "I think you can get much stronger when you can just push through the earth instead of using the mirror to decide if you're lifting correcting." After all, that's exactly what you do in your everyday life outside the gym: You don't look in a mirror and scrutinize your form when squatting down to pick your bag of groceries off the floor or press a heavy box over your head to put it on a high shelf.
It isn’t a must-have for yoga practices, either. “There are many physical benefits of yoga but, at its core, yoga is an internal and meditative practice that helps build inner peace, as well as a deeper understanding of your mental health,” says Matt Weston, the San Diego region lead instructor at CorePower Yoga. “Practicing without mirrors minimizes visual distractions and encourages students to listen to how their bodies and minds feel rather than how it looks in a pose. It helps you trust your breath to guide your movements and move intuitively.”
In some circumstances, looking in a mirror while exercising can be straight-up dangerous. In powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting, in which you’re attempting to lift (think: deadlift, squat, bench press, snatch, clean) as much weight as possible, turning your neck to look in a mirror while moving a heavy load can result in injury, says Summers. “You can’t and shouldn’t for safety reasons be turning your head, lifting your neck, during these movements.”
Of course, mirrors aren't inherently evil, and they may be useful in some cases, says Summers. Some folks who are new to exercising may be unaware of how their bodies move in space; during a lateral raise, for instance, the individual's arms may be at completely different heights at the top of the movement, yet they may not realize it, she says. "So, you may use the mirror so they can see what's happening, and that can be a really helpful tool [to correct form]," she adds. "There are always exceptions."
A visual reference of your form can also be helpful during large, in-studio yoga classes, says Weston. During these sessions, the teacher may not be visible for students to model their pose after or available to provide one-on-one adjustments, so a mirror can help folks check their postures and tweak as they see necessary, he explains. "Mirrors can also be motivating," he adds. "Who doesn't love to see their progress during a challenging class or after mastering a pose they've been working toward for a long time?"
Straying from the gym’s mirror can be daunting, but there are a few tips that can help make the process easier and keep your form on point. First, give yourself tangible targets. During a bodyweight squat, for example, stand near a bench or box and aim to touch your butt to the object, which can help ensure you work through your entire range of motion, says Huerta. More importantly, focus on moving well, not fast to prevent form mistakes, she adds. “Doing 10 squats with quality, being slow, intentional, thoughtful, has more benefits than doing 10 squats fast,” she explains.
Regardless of the exercise, listen to your body and be aware of any pain or discomfort that develops, adds Summers. "If something hurts, you're probably not in a great position, and I would attempt adjusting without running to the mirror to see if it's right," she says. "It's usually something simple. If it's a squat, your feet might be too close together or you might not be driving your hips back."
The same rule of thumb applies to yoga practices: If you feel a pinching sensation or you can't rest in a pose because it's causing strain, an adjustment may be necessary, adds Weston. "Be sure to modify poses by using a block to alleviate some tension, and check in with your body to ensure your alignment is good to go," he says. "Ask yourself, 'Are my knees directly over my ankles?' and 'Is my back straight, or am I sacrificing my form because I'm forcing my body into this pose more than I should?'"
The worst-case scenario? You try an exercise, but it’s performed slightly wrong, says Summers. “As long as something doesn’t hurt you, slightly wrong is fine,” she adds. “Down the road, if you’re looking to lift heavier or do more push-ups or whatever it might be, that’s when form and efficiency matter more and that might be when you want to go get your form checked. But if you’re just there to get moving and work out, if it’s slightly wrong, it’s okay.” If you’re ever concerned about hurting yourself, though, there’s no harm in working with a pro, either online or IRL, who can assess your form and provide tips on how to improve it to keep injury at bay.
Ultimately, there isn't one best approach to utilizing mirrors during your workouts, says Huerta. "If mirrors creep you out, then fuck them. If mirrors help you, then great," she says. "I think there's no right or wrong way, just what's right for you."


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