How staring into the mirror at the gym can improve your workout

Technogym has unveiled a fancy new workout machine, and a recent review pointed out that it comes in three chic styles: plain black, leather, and a reflective finish dubbed "narcissistic mirror".

Narcissistic is an interesting word choice. Its subtext? That mirrors and workouts combine for no other purpose than to allow gym rats to check themselves out and snap their reflections for Instagram #progress photos.

And, look: there's definitely some truth to this. I have seen countless bros admiring themselves in gym mirrors, flexing and curling and pretending to wipe their brows with their shirts to cunningly inspect their own abs. (You're not fooling anyone when you do this, FYI.)

Why gyms have mirrors 

But there's a reason that classic gyms are adorned with mirrors. It's not (just) a narcissism thing — it's a safety thing.

Watching your reflection while hefting lumps of metal helps you ensure that you're hefting them in a way that's not going to hurt you. Without looking at yourself in the mirror, you're unlikely to even realise your body isn't moving optimally.

There's also some evidence that watching your muscles contract in the mirror increases how efficiently those muscles work, potentially increasing their gains. Even if this is just meaningless bro science, there's no harm in concentrating harder on how your body is moving during a workout — instead of zoning out to your favourite playlist.

What to watch out for in the mirror when you...

Squat: Where are your knees tracking when you push up out of a squat? If they're caving inwards — rather than tracking out over your toes — that could signal coordination and/or strength imbalances.

A simple fix is to loop an activation band above your knees, and to keep your knees pressed out against it during your squat.

Bicep curl: Can you lift dumbbells or a bar without your elbows flaring out to the sides? This is the most common error I see during curls — it's basically the body's way of cheating.

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Keep your elbows tucked in, and if you can't, lower the weight you're lifting and focus on your form.

Shoulder press: As you're lifting a barbell, does it stay parallel to the floor as it goes up and down? Almost everyone has a stronger shoulder (probably the hand you write with) and a weaker shoulder, and the stronger one may be doing more of the work.

If you can't keep the bar straight, especially towards the end of a set, that's a sign your shoulders may benefit from some unilateral work — that is, exercises that target one side of the body at a time.

As a former coach once said to me: "If it looks like you're doing an exercise wrong, you probably are."

But leering at yourself in the mirror will only help you so much. For a through form check, book in for a few sessions with a qualified personal trainer.

And hey, if you want to check yourself out in the mirror at the gym — go ahead. You're pumped up! You look great! Just don't be weird about it.

According to Sam Downing, the secret to wellbeing is just to keep it simple. A qualified personal trainer, fitness instructor and nutrition coach, Sam is also a writer focusing on everyday health.

Follow him on Twitter.