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Mirror Mirror On The Wall, Who's The Fittest Girl of All?

Posted Nov 17 2008 9:19pm

My YMCA has been doing some much-needed renovations. The upside is that we now have a shiny new aerobics studio, expanded childcare and a new gym floor that has made more than a few basketball players fall to their knees and weep with joy. The downside, besides that the whole place is drenched in nursing-home yellow, is they moved the weight floor around. Me being me, I wouldn't care if they put the free weights in the bathroom - hey multitasking! - except for one thing: the mirrors.

I'm going to just say this straight out: I'm one of those people who likes to stare at themselves in the mirror while they lift weights. The majority of the time, it's to check my form, I swear. Although those floor-to-ceiling reflective surfaces have other good uses like making sure there aren't any bumps in Gym Buddy Allison's ponytail or checking out the progress of the cut on my tricep. Occasionally I even use it to stare at people (hello man walking around with a weight plate literally chained to your waist!) without actually staring at them. And now the only thing in front of the mirrors is the Smith machine and the squatting sled, so apparently you can check out your form on machines that prevent you from having any. I suppose you could also check out your butt if you got really contorted in the leg press.

All of this got me thinking about gym mirrors in general. In our old aerobics studio, the mirrors were so warped that just doing a grapevine to the right made you lose 10 pounds. That is, until you went left again. The teachers always wondered why the right side of the class was so crowded compared to the left! At any rate, I tried very hard then to not look in the mirrors.

Aesthetics aside, gym goers avoid the mirrors for other reasons as well. A big one for women is being self conscious about their appearance. I will always remember one Bosu class where my top was too short and my pants too tight causing a roll of stomach flab/child skin to blurp out. Mesmerized, I watched it the whole class as it bounced when I bounced and turned when I turned - but always a count behind. A Gym Buddy expressed a similar fear, saying that she refused to wear tank tops to work out in because "then I'd have to stare at my flabby arms the whole time." I'm pretty sure when our group fit teachers tell us to focus this is not what they have in mind. In fact, I'm told that many female-only gyms like Curves have no mirrors at all and it is considered a selling point.

However, as anyone who has taken yoga will attest to, it is easier to stay balanced in bound eagle or dancer pose if you can see yourself in a mirror. In Hip Hop and Zumba, being able to see the mirror helps with footwork and form, not to mention staying on the beat. Mirrors are also an essential tool for being able to see the instructor from different areas of the room. Not to mention they are great for catching and preventing wardrobe malfunctions. (Although the mirrors worked against Turbo Jennie when her halter top came undone mid-squat during a BodyPump class. With the weight bar still on her shoulders, she instinctively spun away from the class - only to be confronted with the full view in the mirrors along with her students' shocked expressions. Another instructor jumped in to rescue her and Turbo Jennie gave away the top but the story still lives on in Y infamy.)

So what is your take on mirrors when you exercise? Hate them? Just another surface to splatter sweat on? Or a useful fitness tool? Minus 10 points if you've ever used one to pop a zit. Yes, I know they're perfect because you can get right up close but seriously - ew!

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