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Thread: Why We Don't Use Mirrors to Evaluate Our Own Lifts

  1. #1
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    Default Why We Don't Use Mirrors to Evaluate Our Own Lifts

    Almost everyone familiar with SS and our coaching style knows we don't like using mirrors for feedback on the lifts, but this concept is often hard to get across to people new to training, who aren't familiar with the complicated, multi-joint and balance-dependent nature of barbell training. It also, occasionally, rubs up against people who do barbell training but still like to use a mirror.

    Recently, a very nice and well intentioned olympic lifter and coach has started training and coaching people at my gym. He's a pretty good lifter himself (180 C&J at 105kg), who has done programming for the Kazakh team, including some work with Ilya Ilyin, apparently. He brought his own full-length mirror, which I was really surprised by. I have no idea if this is common among former soviet bloc countries lifting teams, I don't recall seeing it before, but I was surprised at first. The thing that's surprised me more is that now - since he's the best olympic lifter at the gym AND has worked with international and even medal winning athletes - lots of our regular gym rat olympic lifters now want to use the mirror too.

    This all caused me to reevaluate and sharpen up my own reasons on why I don't like mirrors for this purpose and why I still think they're generally a bad idea.

    The main thing that annoyed me about it, actually, was the negative externality that him setting up the mirror had on everyone else who didn't want to use it. The lifting platform is a single strip of plywood about 60 feet long, with noise absorbing rubber on either side, not individual platforms. So when he places the mirror up at the front where he's lifting, everyone behind on the platform is forced to be lifting while seeing the mirror, whether they want to or not. At first I told him to put it away when I was there, which he did, but by a month or two later, enough of the staff and regular lifters were using it to copycat the best guy in the gym, that my lone voice wasn't really going to win that battle anymore.

    But what about the actual reasons we don't use the mirror. Was I being grumpy and stodgy in my outlook? I don't think so, and I clarified to myself one of the main reasons we don't use it. Just posted on facebook, the following:

    One of the main reasons not to use/look at a mirror while performing a lift can be summed up by what Václav Havel once wrote to the general secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party in a totally different context: "By trying to imitate the real world that has already changed before our imitation can be constructed, we end up falsifying the real world." By the time you see what happened, process it, and are in a position to change/react to it, it's already too late and you're in a different part of the movement, for which your correction is no longer relevant and may even be counterproductive. To get good at a movement, you must learn to feel what your body is doing in space. This can be done via coach's feedback during and after the set, and/or correlating what you felt with watching yourself in a video after the set and making necessary adjustments. A mirror could theoretically be used to feel out a static position, but this embeds the habit of relying on the mirror instead of learning to feel where your body is in space, which is ultimately what you need to do.


    There are other issues, too, namely that often to see the angle you need to see, you have to look sideways or at an awkward angle at the mirror. But even if we ignore those other issues, the fundamental point is, I think, the one I posted about. By the time you'd make the correction that the mirror (theoretically) showed you that you should make, it's already too late. And then you learn to depend on the mirror for this instead of feeling it yourself. The only way to get good at a movement is to learn to feel where you are in space, and get progressively better at making yourself adhere to the model of where you should be, vs where you are now.

    This doesn't mean it's not fun to check out your sweet pump in a mirror, or that looking at a mirror will ruin your lifts, or that it can't possibly ever be useful for very targeted specific things. But as a general point of learning the lift and getting the gross patterns right, I think our position is correct.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Wolf View Post
    One of the main reasons not to use/look at a mirror while performing a lift can be summed up by what Václav Havel once wrote to the general secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party in a totally different context: "By trying to imitate the real world that has already changed before our imitation can be constructed, we end up falsifying the real world." By the time you see what happened, process it, and are in a position to change/react to it, it's already too late and you're in a different part of the movement, for which your correction is no longer relevant and may even be counterproductive. To get good at a movement, you must learn to feel what your body is doing in space. This can be done via coach's feedback during and after the set, and/or correlating what you felt with watching yourself in a video after the set and making necessary adjustments. A mirror could theoretically be used to feel out a static position, but this embeds the habit of relying on the mirror instead of learning to feel where your body is in space, which is ultimately what you need to do.
    Mad props for using a Václav Havel quote. As for the content of the quote, I've always thought about mirrors in terms of an OODA loop. Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. You want to be able to get inside your opponents OODA loop in order to defeat them (e.g., if you're a pilot). In the lifting context, you just want to speed up the loop so that you can react faster to various stimuli. Proprioceptive feedback is likely processed quicker and can be responded to quicker than visual feedback, and so it would make sense to try to focus more on the proprioceptive feedback.

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    In addition to this, when using a mirror, we're looking at a moving object. It is easier to keep your balance and know where you are in space when the object you're looking at is NOT moving. You need a static reference point.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Polishdude20 View Post
    In addition to this, when using a mirror, we're looking at a moving object. It is easier to keep your balance and know where you are in space when the object you're looking at is NOT moving. You need a static reference point.
    I agree with this. There are other reasons, too, that I didn't mention. The mirror can very easily cause you to be distracted by other things going on: most prominently and obviously other people doing things in the gym, but even if you're alone, other parts of your body moving that that catch your eye. It wasn't an exhaustive list, but I think is the main point, even under the most charitable conditions, of why I don't like to use mirrors.

    I can think of some very narrow, specific examples when they might be useful, but on balance those are needles in a large haystack.
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    My daughters gymnastics gym has almost no mirrors. I really like it. Aside from not being particularly helpful during a fast dynamic movement, the girls are also not distracted by worrying about their appearance while they train.

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    Quote Originally Posted by melody View Post
    My daughters gymnastics gym has almost no mirrors. I really like it. Aside from not being particularly helpful during a fast dynamic movement, the girls are also not distracted by worrying about their appearance while they train.
    Now that I think about it, my niece's former gymnastics gym also didn't have a single mirror on their very large training floor, that I recall.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Wolf View Post
    One of the main reasons not to use/look at a mirror while performing a lift can be summed up by what Václav Havel once wrote to the general secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party in a totally different context: "By trying to imitate the real world that has already changed before our imitation can be constructed, we end up falsifying the real world." By the time you see what happened, process it, and are in a position to change/react to it, it's already too late and you're in a different part of the movement, for which your correction is no longer relevant and may even be counterproductive. To get good at a movement, you must learn to feel what your body is doing in space. This can be done via coach's feedback during and after the set, and/or correlating what you felt with watching yourself in a video after the set and making necessary adjustments. A mirror could theoretically be used to feel out a static position, but this embeds the habit of relying on the mirror instead of learning to feel where your body is in space, which is ultimately what you need to do.
    I like the way you've abstracted out the principle at play here, and I agree that real time correction using a mirror while lifting is probably foolish. But what about inter-rep correction? One could argue that by having access to visual information during a rep, you can use the this information to assess form (to the degree that the reflected image allows accurate assessment of form), and then use this information to plan changes for your next rep, and see the result in this next rep.

    And an astute student will also pay attention to the proprioceptive information too. In fact, the argument could be extended to include the fact that having visual and proprioceptive information simultaneously can allow the lifter to calibrate his perception of what "correct" feels like.

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    What about those of us who don't have access to coaching? I use a mirror as a reference to gauge whether or not certain things are happening with my squat, and then try to remember how those things felt, physically, when they are correct. I suppose the danger with this is that a coach is always going to be more knowledgable about what the movement should look like than yourself, but for small things like making sure the knees are set, or figuring out what proper depth feels like (using the SS book as a guide, of course), it has been a useful tool for me. I'll glance at the mirror a couple times during my warm ups, then go off of feel with my work sets.

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    Quote Originally Posted by spacediver View Post
    I like the way you've abstracted out the principle at play here, and I agree that real time correction using a mirror while lifting is probably foolish. But what about inter-rep correction? One could argue that by having access to visual information during a rep, you can use the this information to assess form (to the degree that the reflected image allows accurate assessment of form), and then use this information to plan changes for your next rep, and see the result in this next rep.

    And an astute student will also pay attention to the proprioceptive information too. In fact, the argument could be extended to include the fact that having visual and proprioceptive information simultaneously can allow the lifter to calibrate his perception of what "correct" feels like.
    My experience as both a lifter and coach has been that having that information simultaneously is more sensory overload than helpful, is too much stuff to process at once, and is actually counterproductive.

    One of the few places I think a mirror could be helpful - not necessary, but helpful - would be someone who has a lot of trouble understanding how to actually get into a position. Looking at a mirror, if it can be placed at the proper angle to see what needs to be seen while holding position still/isometrically, or moving REALLY slowly through a troublesome ROM (both with no or only very very light weight) might help someone understand where their body actually is vs where they think it is, and then adjust accordingly.

    Usually this isn't necessary - a coach's verbal, visual, and tactile cues and/or a video taken at the proper angle and watched afterwards can do the same thing, without becoming reliant on a tool that is more counterproductive than productive in most other contexts. But that's one place where, theoretically, it could be used, But I don't think while moving, or at least not while moving at actual movement speed with any kind of actual weight.

    Quote Originally Posted by tfranc View Post
    What about those of us who don't have access to coaching? I use a mirror as a reference to gauge whether or not certain things are happening with my squat, and then try to remember how those things felt, physically, when they are correct. I suppose the danger with this is that a coach is always going to be more knowledgable about what the movement should look like than yourself, but for small things like making sure the knees are set, or figuring out what proper depth feels like (using the SS book as a guide, of course), it has been a useful tool for me. I'll glance at the mirror a couple times during my warm ups, then go off of feel with my work sets.
    See above.
    Last edited by Michael Wolf; 04-07-2017 at 11:24 PM. Reason: spelling
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