Do Gym Mirrors Lie?

A mirror can reveal far more than just a reflection. It can stir up complex feelings. For some people it’s...

A mirror can reveal far more than just a reflection. It can stir up complex feelings. For some people it’s an exercise in personal vanity. For others, it can highlight insecurities or highlight low body confidence. Mirrors can elevate our mood or undermine it. There are even disorders that distort how a person sees their own body shape and size. Gym mirrors may only be glass and metal, but do they lie? 

Why do gyms have mirrors?  

Gym mirrors can be used for practical or aesthetic reasons. Members may use them to check form. This is because it can be difficult to mentally track a range of motion without a visual reference, especially for beginners. Kinesthetic awareness is ‘feeling the movement of limbs and joints,’ and it isn’t something that comes easily or naturally to everyone, especially in the beginning. Mirrors can help gym members see what they’re doing and understand why that might be considered the right or wrong way to do the movement. Many bodybuilders disagree, however, and claim it’s better to feel the right position rather than to use a mirror and check form in the reflection. They argue that using mirrors can cause injury or become a distraction. Kinesthetic awareness may be difficult in the beginning, but they suggest in the long-term that it’s much better for the individual.  

Mirrors also allow PTs and instructors to see a client from several different angles, which is helpful when they’re standing at the front and supervising several people in the same space.  

People also use mirrors in the gym to check their appearance. This may be to make sure a gym outfit is fitted properly, to appreciate the way it looks, or to admire themselves. 

Gyms also use mirrors to boost light levels in the building or to give the illusion of space. Some gyms may lack natural light, and mirrors help bounce the brightness around. 

Cross-fit gyms often have a no mirror-policy because they believe it’s the work that’s important rather than physical appearance.  

The use of mirrors will depend on the individual gym and its ethos. They may also be used for aesthetic reasons, covering large blank walls to break up the space, or as part of a specific decor choice, or to cover damage to plaster and paintwork. 


Do gym mirrors lie? 

Several factors impact how we perceive ourselves in the mirror. The mirrors we have at home are no different from gyms in this regard. Lighting and angles can account for significantly different interpretations of what we see. Low-quality mirrors will likely have more imperfections which can distort the accuracy of what it’s reflecting.  

The mirror’s angle can affect how light is reflected. Sheerwater glass argues that gym mirrors are tilted forward to make a person appear more muscular. This may be true in some establishments, but many people do not believe this is standard practice for gyms. The shape of the mirror also has an impact on what we see. Concave mirrors curve inwards and can make you look taller and thinner. Convex mirrors curve outwards which can make you look shorter and wider. There are ways to identify whether a gym mirror is concave or convex. You can often tell by looking at the shape and what happens when you get closer to the objects around you. 

Some retailers will use this trick inside changing rooms to influence how people feel about the clothes they’re likely to buy. Whether this trick is as successful as some may think is debatable, because it can be obvious to the consumer, especially if they shop somewhere regularly. Gym members working out are more likely to notice this if they’re exercising consistently.  

Lighting makes a difference. Vertical lighting forces shadows to fall in such a way that muscles can appear more defined. Gyms using bright and evenly distributed light can help reduce shadows and highlight muscle definition, making you look more toned.  

A lot of gym-goers talk about ‘the pump’. This is when in the immediate aftermath of a good workout, your shoulders and back appear wider. This would explain why it’s difficult to replicate the ‘gym look’ in the home.  

Gym mirrors are large and expensive. Cheaper options are prone to imperfections that may be more noticeable on a larger scale in the gym. They may distort things which is why people feel they look different in one mirror compared to another. Mirrors can also bend overtime which will further add to any distortion.  

Ultimately, it’s not necessarily that gyms conspire to fool us but that there are several factors which can contribute to distortions in our reflections. We also cannot discount changes in how we perceive things. Our eyes aren’t always reliable witnesses to changes happening to our bodies.  


Should you work out in front of a mirror? 

This is down to personal choice. Some people prefer working out with mirrors because it’s easier to focus on form. Others prefer working out without them because of body confidence issues or just personal preference. MacMaster university did research that found mirrors can make people self-conscious and that because of this some new members may be less likely to return. 

In a busy gym environment where people are moving around carrying weights, etc., mirrors can give a better view of the gym floor, especially if your back is to the people walking around.  

There’s also the idea that looking straight into a mirror makes you vulnerable to injury. If you’re readjusting, it can also undermine your form. Bonvecstrength argues that it’s better for people to ‘reach a level of self-awareness', which isn’t done with a mirror. Therefore, it may be better not to use the mirror as a crutch even in the beginning. 


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