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Exercising In Front of Mirrors Will Bring You Down?



A couple of days ago I asked readers of my new FaceBook Page whether or not they preferred exercising in front of a mirror?

The response was mixed: for some definitely no mirrors, for some definitely yes, and for some the answer depends on the exercise (weights: yes; aerobic: no).

So what does research have to say on this?

A Canadian study to address this issue was done by Kathleen Martin Ginis and colleagues from McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario published back in 2003 in Health Psychology.

The researchers examined body image concerns on changes in exercise-induced feelings and self-efficacy in 58 young sedentary women, who were randomised to perform a 20-min bout of solitary exercise in front of either a mirrored or a nonmirrored wall.

The results clearly indicated that regardless of their level of body image concern, the women in the mirrored condition felt significantly worse after exercising than the women in the unmirrored condition.

The authors note that these findings are entirely consistent with predictions of the objective self-awareness theory proposed by Duval and Wicklund in 1972. According to this theory:

“…any stimulus that causes focus on the self, such as the presence of a mirror, can lead to a state of increased self-awareness. This state is characterized by a greater awareness of internal sensations and the elicitation of a self-evaluation process whereby individuals compare themselves with standards or ideals that are salient in the situation. When the self-evaluation process results in a perceived discrepancy between the actual and the ideal self, negative self-evaluations and negative affect will occur.”

As noted by the authors, this theory is supported by numerous studies showing that gazing at oneself in a mirror increases self-focus and can lead to increased negative mood, particularly among women.

Not surprisingly, the authors conclude that these findings have important implications for physical activity and exercise recommendations:

“Our findings suggest that mirrored exercise environments may not just prevent sedentary women from deriving the mood-enhancing benefits of exercise but may actually cause mood decrements.

This raises the possibility that mirrored fitness facilities are a deterrent to exercise participation among sedentary women. Certainly if a woman leaves the gym feeling even worse than when she arrived, she will not be particularly motivated to continue exercising in the future.

As such, the recommended practice of placing mirrors in exercise centers may need to be reconsidered, especially in centers that are trying to attract exercise initiates.”

As far as I can tell by the abundance of mirrored walls in fitness centres, five years later, these findings have yet to be widely translated into practice.

I wonder what my readers have to say about this? Are there actually gyms out there that offer mirror-free exercise rooms?

AMS
Edmonton, Alberta

Martin Ginis KA, Jung ME, & Gauvin L (2003). To see or not to see: effects of exercising in mirrored environments on sedentary women’s feeling states and self-efficacy. Health psychology : official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 22 (4), 354-61 PMID: 12940391

16 Comments

  1. I have worked out in two Curves gyms. The only mirrors were around back near the changing area. Although I’m not crazy about the equipment they offer, they definitely create a welcoming environment that makes you want to return.

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  2. This is true. My exercise centers have glass around most of the 4000 sqft. and a small amount of mirror only in areas where form and biomechanics are being taught. The most insecure of our patients and clients reinforce their negative feelings with the mirror. I can imagine how frustrating it would be to try to lose weight for years and not be successful, how the mirror might make a person feel….

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  3. This makes perfect sense. The happiest I’ve ever been while exercising is doing boot camp classes in city parks and school gyms. While mirrors can help you with form for certain exercises, in general they make you focus more on insignificant personal issues than on getting better and stronger.

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  4. Maybe they did read the study… after all, gym affordability and profit relies on their members’ not showing up.

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  5. We use mirrors at our gym for two reasons; so that there is a visual for the trainers to see themselves demonstrating proper form and for the client to see if they themsleves are doing the exercise properly. Initial consultation with clients informs them that weight loss is not what you see in the mirrors, what you see is the transformation of measurements of various parts of the body causing loss fiting clothes or muscular definition however small initiates encouragement. When used properly mirrors are of a greater benefit.

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  6. In the aerobics room I work out in, there are mirrored walls in the front 1/3 of the room only. This allows the instructor to see people in the mirror and people to not be around them if they don’t want to. Also the mirrors seem to be skinny mirrors – that is hung with the top slightly out from the wall. The instructors are great at focusing participants on the workout not on the mirror.

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  7. Hello Dr. Sharma,

    I exercise at the YMCA in Oakville. Their main exercise studio does not have a single mirror. Most of their studios do not have mirrors; however, there are a couple of studios that do that are required for pilates, martial arts, etc.

    Have a good evening,

    Andrea Engerer

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  8. I beg to differ.

    Even when I started at the gym being a bit overweight,mirrors(that are all over the weights area at my gym) helped me with form and accessing my progress as far as inches and muscle definition go.

    I knew I didn’t look my best,I have mirrors in the house too,that’s why I hit the gym in the first place :P…

    I always feel more secure knowing there’s a mirror there so I can check myself and not feel self-conscious about something on me being off:P (knowledge is power)

    Now that I’ve gotten to my ideal weight and have seen definition,I always leave the gym happier …

    I can understand the other women’s point of view,but I will say,and I really think that,lack of self confidence,self-honesty,optimism that you will reach your goals,and lack of motivation is an epidemic.

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  9. I prefer working out in front of a mirror personally. I workout at home with my music blasting, I only have dumbbells a pull up bar and pushup stands. I am a skinny guy so weight loss is certainly not my goal! I workout with my shirt off and actually gain confidence and am able to push myself harder as the workout goes on! I find after I do three sets of pushups and curls my muscles really begin to show and bulge! And in between sets I flex so I can see the definition and what needs work while during sets I am watching my form and when I feel fatigue coming I stare myself in the eyes and push myself to fulfill every rep I can. I can see how some people get put off by looking in mirrors. But for me I find it motivating inspiring and useful to get a good strong workout.

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  10. Also I usually consider myself a scrawny person so seeing my muscles buldge would improve upon my self image while others may think themselves skinnier and reality destroys their self-image through mirrors.

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  11. I Love mirrors, to see form & to visualize my workout .there is no doubt the most important tool is to teach proper form. use MIRRORS as a friend not an enemy!
    all my clients would be lost without mirrors.We need them to show the good & the bad.

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  12. I recently opened a new Pilates and BioCored studio. I decided to wait (for financial reasons) to purchase and install mirrors and began working with clients in the mirrorless atmosphere. After 2 months working with both existing and new clients, I can say that the results we are achieving are tremendous. Without the constant checking to see if they are “doing it right,” I am able to fully engage each client and get them to trust the “feeling of right”. The mind/body connection has opened so much for many of my more challenging clients and my more experienced clients are enjoying a more social comraderie with classmates.
    I have enjoyed being mirrorless so much that I am currently storing a bunch of mirrors that I was able to purchase at a big discount and will probably decide to resell! There are a few of those guys (my husband included) who are always saying they wish they could see themselves, but I think I’ll put my foot down on the side of “owner knows best”!

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  13. the conflict of curiosity setting up?The builder experienced various defects within the roof development triggering major water intrusion challenges. The

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  14. When I worked out at Jazzercise, the rule (in Jazzercise at the time) was a facility with no mirrors. I went like crazy, even daily and sometimes back to back classes in a day. I got healthier, I became more fit, I enjoyed myself. I surprised myself when I looked at myself in a mirror in a gym. I felt like I belonged there, as I looked approximately as fit as those around me. I know that gyms count on people signing up and NEVER going (hence the profit margin), but wouldn’t it actually be more profitable for others to see the changes as a result of the people wanting to continue to go?

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  15. Mirrors at an exercise class are imperative if you care about exercising properly. I find working in front of a mirror motivating and I concentrate hard to work as hard as I can in the correct way. Without a mirror I end up standing or moving incorrectly and end up with back ache for weeks.

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