Did you ever notice how powerlifters and Olympic lifters compete without mirrors but just facing the public? Have you also spotted how everyone does the most popular gym exercise – the Bench Press – without looking at a mirror? Then what does this tell you about the necessity of mirrors when lifting weights?
I trained for 5 years in a public gym. Not a single time did I Squat or Deadlift without facing a mirror. But then I built a home gym and laziness kept me from buying mirrors. Since I quickly got used to lifting without them, I never got myself any. And after 7 years of Squatting, Deadlifting and Pressing while staring at a blank wall, I’ve concluded that mirrors are unnecessary for lifting.
But, how will you know if you’re lifting correctly? Not using mirrors. They only gives you information about the front plane. So even if you do your Squats while facing a mirror, you never know what’s really happening anyway.
As an example: you can’t check if your hips are going lower than your knees on the Squat when you face a mirror. You’d have to stand with your side facing it and then look aside to check where your hips are going when Squatting. But this is a guaranteed way to twist your neck and suffer pain for a few days.
Mirrors can cause the same kind of neck injuries on Deadlifts. When you’re in the starting position, the only way you can see yourself in the mirror is by tilting your head up. This can cause neck pain and will mess with your technique (your hips will usually end up too low, which is less effective for Deadlift strength).
So you only have 2 ways to find out if you’re lifting with correct technique:
- Tape Yourself. Use a digital camera or a phone with video capabilities to take videos of your lifts. It’s a well-known fact that elite lifters tape themselves to find errors with their technique and improve it.
- Ask Someone. This should be someone who is familiar with the lifts, and who knows the difference between good & bad technique. Watch out with personal trainers, many don’t know how to Squat/Deadlift.
If you’re going to build a home gym: don’t waste your money on mirrors, just lift staring at a blank wall. It will feel weird, but you’ll quickly develop a feeling for how your body moves through space (kinesthetic sense or proprioception). This skill is useful for all other sports that don’t use mirrors either (rugby, soccer, …).
If your gym has mirrors everywhere, turn your body away from them so you can’t rely on visual input. If that’s not possible, focus on 1 point in the mirror as if you were trying to look THROUGH it instead of at it. Just don’t try to check your technique, and keep your head down on Deadlifts/Rows to prevent neck pain.
Frankly, mirrors only serve bodybuilders who like to check if their muscles are pumped between sets. But even if you want to track physical changes, weekly full body pictures of yourself are more objective than looking at the mirror.