Mirrors are one of those things you might forget when planning a home gym. It’s not the first thing you think about and can be a bit mystifying. I’ve done some research and found out exactly the why, where, how and what of mirrors for a home gym.
Standard gym mirrors measure 36″ x 60″ and be mounted one or two feet from the floor. Glass mirrors are great and provide a clear reflection. Acrylic mirror sheets are a great alternative for a home gym. The biggest benefits of acrylic sheets are that they are cheaper, stronger and lighter.
That’s the short of it. There is much more to know about gym mirrors and why they’re important. Keep reading to find out.
Why do you need mirrors in your home gym?
Gym mirrors are one of the most important pieces or equipment that you’ll never touch. Maybe you’ll touch them to clean them but otherwise it’s better to leave them alone. But why do you need them?
No, gym mirrors aren’t just there to satisfy the gymbro that has to check out his own arms in self-adoration everywhere. Mirrors are also not for the gym bunnies that have to take suggestive Instagram pictures for their ‘followers’. Yes that happens but is not the main purpose of mirrors in a gym.
Serious bodybuilders use the mirrors to practice posing for a competition but that’s also a relatively small part of the population of a normal gym. 98% of people who go to a gym will never join a bodybuilding competition. The vast majority of people just want to get into shape. So why are there so many mirrors in the average gym?
Mirrors are meant to be used to check your exercise form. For beginners this might not be immediately obvious since frankly, most beginners don’t really know what their exercise form is supposed to look like. When you’re starting out you don’t really know what to look for so mirrors are not as useful as a trainer.
Once you get to the level where you understand what a lift should look like, you don’t need the trainer as much and you can discover a lot of what’s going on just by looking in the mirror. Doing a lift with bad form can cause injuries pretty quickly. Doing a heavy dead lift with a rounded back is likely going to leave you with a painful back in the future. When you’ve got a mirror you get direct visual feedback so you can see if what you’re doing is right.
It’s not necessary to look at yourself 100% of the time but checking your form regularly is important.
Seeing yourself transform and improve over time is an added benefit that can help with finding the motivation to keep going to the gym. Get motivated however you can. Consistency and drive will give you the success you’re looking for in the gym. And in a home gym, nobody cares how you do that.
When you’re stretching, it can also be really useful to check yourself in the mirror. You can see if one side is tighter than the other and if you make any movements you shouldn’t be.
Which type of mirror is best for your home gym?
There are different types of mirrors. What types of mirrors are there and which is the best choice for a home gym?
Traditional mirrors are made of glass. You’re probably very familiar with this type of mirror since it’s been the standard for a very long time and they’re everywhere. There are some pros and cons of this type of mirror.
- Clear reflection. Everyone know what a glass mirror looks like. The view you get is super sharp.
- Scratch resistant. Glass is very hard. It’s hard to scratch a glass surface. Sure it’s possible but with normal use, it’s pretty rare.
- Rigid. Glass doesn’t bend. This can be a benefit if you’re dealing with an uneven mounting surface.
- Heavy. Especially in a gym setting, you need big mirrors. Big planes of glass are really heavy and require care when mounting. You don’t want your mirrors to fall down and shatter all over the floor.
- Expensive. Plastic us just much cheaper than glass. That means that glass free mirrors are generally quite a bit cheaper than glass.
- Vulnerable. Glass mirrors can be more vulnerable to shattering than other options. This also depends on the thickness however. Thick glass can be very strong but most standard mirrors aren’t super thick.
- Hard to cut into shape or drill holes in. You risk splintering or shattering the mirror if you don’t do it right.
The biggest alternative to the traditional glass mirror is acrylic, Also called ‘glassless mirrors’. Acrylic is a type of plastic. This sheet of plastic has a reflective metallic foil on the back so it turns into a mirror. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of acrylic mirrors.
- Cheaper than glass.
- Usually comes in large sheets, which is what you want in a gym.
- Lightweight. Acrylic weighs much less than glass. This means it’s easier to mount and
- Impact resistant. Doesn’t break like glass. In places where safety is important, this is a big benefit.
- Easy to cut into shape and drill holes in. Unlike glass you can cut it very easily without risk of damaging more than you intended.
- Reflectivity is similar to glass.
- Easy to clean with water and soap. Wipe clean with a lint free cloth and you’re done. Some chemicals can damage the surface so read the label before you use anything.
- Easier to mount since it’s less heavy and less vulnerable.
- Scratches more easily than glass. This shouldn’t be a big problem since you shouldn’t touch your mirror too much. Also, an impact that scratches an acrylic mirror might break a glass mirror.
- Can bend easily. This is good in a funhouse but in a gym you don’t want that. It’s only an issue before and during mounting. Make sure that you mount this type of mirror on a flat surface so you won’t bend it. This could cause weird distortions. On the other hand, you could use it to cover a curved surface.
- It can be difficult to find acrylic mirror sheets that are large enough (36″ x 60″) to use a single one as a gym mirror. Luckily they’re often border and frameless so you can easily hang them next to each other with a minimal gap.
Mylar is a reflective foil that reflects more light than even glass mirrors. Mylar reflects about 97% of the light while glass reflects only about 70%. That gives a very clear picture. Mylar mirrors are often used for dance studios, events and exposition booths where they need very clear looking mirrors in large sizes.
Since it’s a foil, there are some big drawbacks. Foil is not easy to get straight. Foil folds and bends easily so you’ll end up with a distorted image. To prevent this, the foil is mounted on a frame (usually aluminum). Then heat is applied. Since Mylar shrinks with heat, you’ll end up with a perfectly straight and smooth surface.
The whole assembly is also super light so that makes it easy to handle and mount. The drawback is that it’s still a foil in the end. This means it can be damaged pretty easily.
In general, for home gyms I’d not recommend this type of mirror. They’re not durable enough and you don’t really need the extra clarity and reflectivity over the other types of mirror.
Smart mirrors are either made of plastic or glass. The difference is that there is an LCD screen behind it. When the screen is turned on you can see it through the mirror but when it’s turned off it just looks like a normal mirror.
Of course you don’t want all the mirror in your home gym to be smart mirrors. It’s unnecessary, needlessly complicated and expensive. A single smart mirror could be pretty cool and useful however.
Smart gym mirrors can be use to track workouts, track vital stats if connected to a fitness band, watch example exercises, do follow-along workouts, etc. These can be invaluable tools to get and stay in shape and reach your fitness goals.
The best smart gym mirror is the Echelon Reflect (Amazon link). It’s not cheap but it works very well and has a ton of workouts you can follow.
For a home gym, Acrylic mirrors are the best choice. Acrylic mirrors have so many more benefits over glass mirrors that they are the best choice for most purposes nowadays. They are cheap, come in large sheets and are durable. They’re also easy to install and handle since they’re lightweight. If your mirror sheets aren’t the exact right size or shape, they’re also pretty easy to cut and alter so you can make them fit every small corner for a nice finish. That’s much more difficult to do with glass.
The only drawback is that some acrylic mirror sheets can have some distortions or not be as reflective as glass. This is a quality problem and can be prevented with buying the right product.
Other home gym mirror features
Besides the materials and construction, there are a few features that you should be aware of;
- Mounting height
The most important function of a gym mirror is to see yourself and check your form, even when you have your hands extended above your head.
For the average height person, a mirror that’s about 5′-6’ tall will allow you to do every lift and exercise and still be able to see all of yourself.
Sure most people are taller than 6’ when they put their hands over their head. You might think that a 6’ tall mirror might not be high enough to see everything but you’ll be fine. People don’t stand exactly next to the mirror to lift weights. They stand about 5’ away from the mirror. That causes you see yourself smaller than you actually are. This helps you fit in the mirror. Also, you mount the mirror a little higher and not from the floor, more on that later.
Height is on part, width is another. We all know the irritation that comes from having a mirror seam in the middle of your view. Sure it can be funny and it’s a small irritation but I can never not notice it if it’s there.
To prevent being cut in half by a mirror seam, you need a mirror that’s wide enough to completely fit you. It should at least fit you when having your arms by your side. To accomplish this a mirror width of at least 36” is good. There are wider mirrors available but they come at a price. 36” is wide enough but if you’ve got the money to spend you can go wider.
Some mirrors are cut in shapes that aren’t square. There are round, oval and other shapes of mirrors. These might look good in a dressing room or bathroom but have no place in a gym. Gym mirrors should be square or rectangular. In a gym you might want to put multiple mirrors next to or on top of each other.
With any other shape than square or rectangular you are making your life more difficult than it has to be. If you put up a round or oval mirror and it turns out it isn’t big enough. What can you do then? Trying to fit another mirror next to it is super difficult since you have to match the curved lines. And even if you’d manage that, you’ll have weird lines in the view since there will be a seam between the two pieces.
Sure with square mirrors you’ll have a seam as well but at least it’s straight and predictable. That makes it a bit easier for your brain to see what’s going on even if your reflection is kind of ‘split’. Besides that, it’s much easier to put a square mirror next to another square mirror since it’s there are no curves.
Concave or convex mirrors have no place in a gym. They might be fun at the fair but in a gym they’re useless. You just want to see what is going on without shape shifting every time you go up or down. Just get straight mirrors without any distortion or transforming effect.
Some commercial gyms use some tricks to make you look different than you actually are. They won’t necessarily use transforming mirrors but take advantage of the way you can mount them. Gyms mount the top of the mirror slightly further away from the wall than the bottom. This way your upper body appears slightly bigger than your belly. That makes it look like going to the gym works better than it actually does and makes you want to come back. Not all gyms do this and the ones that do are probably a small minority but it does happen.
Where should you set up gym mirrors?
The short answer: In places where you want to see yourself. Obvious, I know. So the question is; where you want to see your own reflection in the gym?
Not every surface of your home gym has to be covered in mirror. There’s no need for that. In commercial gyms there are often so many mirrors because at certain times it’s really busy and a big percentage of those people want to have a mirror in front of them. All those people need at least 36” of mirror width. That starts adding up quickly. In a home gym there are not that many people so you just need a few places where you absolutely need mirrors. Mirrors are not necessary or even useful for all exercises so it’s not necessary to have them everywhere.
The mirror is useful for a group of exercises where you’re standing or seated. Laying down or on a treadmill, a mirror isn’t of much use.
The places you should install a mirror in your home gym;
- Behind your power rack. This is the place where you lift the heaviest weights and are standing or sitting on a bench. That means most lifts you perform in a power rack can be monitored easily in the mirror. And they should be monitored since heavy lifts carry the most risk if not performed the right way.
- Where you work with dumbbells. Most dumbbell exercises are performed standing or sitting. That means you can check them easily in a mirror.
- Where you do floor work. E.g. Yoga, Pilatus, stretching, etc.
Some of these places can overlap of course. Maybe you do all those things in the same place so you just need one mirror.
How to install home gym mirrors
Now we know which, where and why, it’s time to get to the practical point of installing gym mirrors. What is the best way to install them? It depends on the type you chose earlier. As can read below, you want to mount the mirror about 2’ off the floor. That means you can’t just put them down, you’ll have to mount them on the wall. How can you do that? Check it out;
Gym mirrors don’t have frames. That means that most normal mounting methods won’t work since they use the frame for mounting as well as holding the mirror. There are some things you can do to hang frameless mirrors.
For heavier glass mirrors, check out this Wikihow article
For acrylic mirrors you can use the methods from the article above but, you can also use some different methods. Since acrylic is light and doesn’t splinter or shatter, you’ve got two more options available. The first one is construction glue. Heavy duty glue will be able to handle the weight of acrylic mirrors. Just be aware that it’ll be very difficult to get them off again. And if you do, you will probably damage the drywall behind it.
You could also just use screws. Since acrylic doesn’t shatter or splinter, you could drill some holes and screw them onto the wall. This is not a very pretty solution but easy, fast and simple.
I’ve already mentioned in passing that you shouldn’t mount your mirrors from the floor up. In most situations it’s actually better to leave a 2’ gap at the bottom. There are three reasons for that;
- The top of a gym mirror should be at 7’ height. This way you can be sure that you can see everything that’s going on when you’re lifting above your head. You don’t have to be afraid that you won’t see your feet. If you’re about 5’ away from the mirror, you’ll be able to see them just fine. Since I recommended a mirror height of 5′-6’ above, you’ll need the one or two feet at the bottom to make it to 7’ high.
- Sometimes weights roll. If they roll into a mirror, they can break it. Since mirrors are expensive and broken glass is a PITA to clean up and replace, you really want to avoid that.
- In most code compliant houses, power outlets are installed at 24” height. So having the two feet of clearance at the bottom prevents running into problems with those.
One exception is if you do a big part of your workout on the floor. For people that need mirrors for Yoga, Pilatus, stretching, etc. it’s better to leave no gap at the bottom. In those cases you’re obviously much lower but you’re often also closer to the mirror. This means it’s possible that you won’t be able to see everything. And if you don’t work with weights in that location of your gym, there is little risk of damage.
Here are some tips you on how to make the most of your gym and your money regarding mirrors in your gym.
Use mirrors to make you gym look better
Interior designers have been using mirrors to make a space look better for a very long time. Why not do that in your home gym as well?
Home gyms have a tendency to feel a bit dark and cramped. Both those things are possible to solve with the proper use of mirrors combined with lighting.
A single mirror that’s big enough is enough for the practical purpose of checking your form might not be big enough for the purpose of making your home gym look better. To accomplish that purpose you’ll need to upsize your mirrors a little.
- Pick one wall. Probably your best option is the wall where you already want to mount your mirrors anyways. Otherwise the wall opposite the door works well too since you can immediately see that when you open the door, giving a roomy first impression.
- Cover that whole wall in mirrors. In a way this makes your gym look twice as big. This makes your home gym look roomier and more spacious than it actually is.
- Having the extra reflective surfaces will also the most of your lighting. The mirrors will reflect more light back into your gym. You do need some decent lighting to begin with though. Otherwise you’ll just be reflecting a dark hole.
Mirrors can be quite expensive. Take a look on craigslist. There are always people redecorating their bathroom or getting new stuff and they want to get rid of their old things. Usually there are some mirrors available really cheaply. Sure these might not be the exact size I recommended above but if you’re on a budget, anything is better than nothing. As long as you can get a reasonably large mirror you can make it work.
If there’s choice, get a larger mirror without a frame. A mirror with a frame might be easier to hang but there’s a big downside: When it turns out the mirror you got is too small, an easy solution to fix the problem is to mount another one next/on/under it. Without a frame it’s much easier to get a smooth transition with a view that isn’t interrupted. With a frame you’ll always have that part of your view that is obstructed.
Can you work out without mirrors? Sure you can. There are good reasons why you should have mirrors but they aren’t absolutely essential. The most important reason to have mirrors is to be able to check your form to train well and prevent injuries. That means if you don’t have mirrors in your gym, it’s very valuable to have a workout buddy or trainer that can correct your form.
Do gym mirrors have to go down do the floor? For normal weightlifting, powerlifting and general fitness it’s not necessary to have the mirrors go down to the floor. Leaving 1’-2’ free at the bottom is fine. People that perform a lot of floor exercises like yoga, Pilatus, stretching, etc. it is useful to extend your mirror to the floor.