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Mirrors Can Improve Your Exercise Results
By : Ross Harrison

I have previously written a lot about the importance of having correct exercise technique for both the safety and effectiveness of your workouts. While there is no question that technique is important, you may not know how to improve your technique, especially when learning new exercises. The best way is probably to hire a qualified personal trainer to teach you proper technique, but for many people that is not a reasonable option. In that case, one of the best things you can do is watch yourself in the mirror while you exercise.

There are two things that are critical for achieving proper exercise technique: you obviously need to know how the exercise is supposed to be performed and your body needs to have the ability to move the right way by contracting the correct muscles. This may not sound too challenging, but if you are performing a new exercise or even a variation of an old exercise, your body may not do exactly what you want it to.

The real issue is that our perception of how our muscles and joints are moving is not always the same as what they are actually doing. When exercising, or performing any movement for that matter, your body receives feedback about the movement from numerous sources, including what you see (visual information) and what you feel (tactile information). Your body also gets feedback from your perceptions of the movement and your spatial orientation, which is called proprioception.

When you consciously tell your body to move a certain way, such as when performing an exercise, your brain combines all this feedback to get the information it needs. Then your brain sends signals to your muscles telling them how to contract in order to perform the movement correctly. This generally works pretty well, but if the feedback your brain gets is not completely accurate, then your subsequent movements will not be exactly what you want or expect.

The most common problem is that our proprioception is usually not as accurate as we think it is, especially when it comes to performing unfamiliar movements or exercises. In other words, your body segments will be in different places than you think they are during the movement. Your positioning may not be off by much, but every little bit makes a difference. When your proprioception is off, you will not have correct exercise technique and your workouts will not be as safe or effective as they should be. Fortunately, these problems can be greatly reduced by using a mirror while you are exercising.

When you watch yourself performing an exercise or movement, your brain receives more accurate proprioceptive feedback, since it is able to combine your perceptions of movement with the visual feedback. As a result, your brain is able to send more accurate signals to your muscles and joints telling them how to move, which also serves to recalibrate and improve your overall proprioception. This is important, because the better your proprioception, the better your form will be.

Learning proper exercise technique doesn't happen right away and it takes many repetitions performed frequently over a period of time to develop great form. The way you perform each reps does influence how fast your technique improves, because the more variance there is in your technique from rep to rep, the longer it takes your body to develop a consistent movement pattern. Watching yourself in a mirror is important here as well, because it allows you to make sure that each rep has as little variance as possible.

If you don't pay attention to your form or have poor proprioception, you may never develop good form and it is possible to develop chronic form flaws instead. Just as performing exercises correctly improves your form, consistently repeating an incorrect movement makes that same flaw more likely to occur in the future. Therefore if your proprioception is off and you think you are performing a movement correctly, but are actually doing something different, you will reinforce bad form instead of improving your technique.

Watching yourself in a mirror may not seem like it would affect things very much, but it really does make a difference, especially when it comes to your proprioception. After you perform an exercise with good form for an extended period of time, it will become an ingrained movement pattern. This means you should still be able to maintain proper technique without watching yourself in the mirror anymore. This is the ideal point you want to reach when learning any exercise or movement pattern.

Of course, there are many exercises where you will not be able to watch yourself in a mirror, but you can still see at least some of your body's movements. You may have to move your head around to see how different body segments are moving, but this extra effort will provide you with very important feedback. Just make sure that when watching your movements you are not altering your form in a negative way.

If worst comes to worst, you can always use a video camera to record your movements. While this does not offer real-time feedback, watching video should still help improve your proprioception and form, especially if you watch it right after you complete the exercise. Regardless of what method you use, watching yourself while exercising is an easy way to improve your technique and ensure you are getting the most out of each of your workouts.

Ross Harrison, CSCS, NSCA-CPT is a certified personal trainer, strength and conditioning specialist, nutritional consultant, and has a BA in psychology from Grinnell College. He takes a holistic approach to health and fitness and teaches people how to lose weight, get in shape, and improve their quality of life with exercise and nutrition. If you want to find out more about his services or contact him for any reason, please visit