The mirror scares me. In case you haven’t seen any of their commercials, the Mirror is a $ 1500 interactive device that broadcasts live and on-demand exercise classes in strength, cardio, and even yoga.
Most of the time it looks and works like an almost continuous mirror on the wall, but it is also an LCD screen that, in conjunction with an app, allows you to choose from different classes.
Choose one and an on-screen apparition will guide you through a workout. This apparition probably reminds some people of the tiny hologram of Princess Leia that Obi Wan Kenobi only asked for help in Spandex.
Not me. I remember Freddy Krueger in the mirror, Freddy Krueger, reaching out, sticking out my eyeballs and screaming and pulling me into the mirror’s alternate universe.
So damn no, I don’t want any of these things in my house.
Virtual dominatrixes are practical
Nevertheless, I get the idea behind the mirror. It and similar devices are likely to be very useful for people who have no idea how to set up a workout on their own. Likewise, many people train much, much harder when working with a Dominator or Dominator, virtual or otherwise, that leads them to do another rep, another lap, or another dog down.
Easier it seems that people are busier when exercising with someone better at the activity than they are. There is even a recent study that confirms this assumption. Forty-one men and women were assigned to alternate half-hourly bouts of moderate and high intensity cycling for 24 weeks.
They were not assigned a partner (the control group), an always superior partner, or a not always superior partner. And, unsurprisingly, training with an always superior partner resulted in better workouts than training alone.
In my experience, this phenomenon applies not only to inexperienced cyclists, but to any level of cyclist or, more importantly, every type of athlete. It’s a complex psychological stew of inspiration, a desire for approval, and fear of failure or shame.
Of course, not everyone can afford a personal trainer to praise them to greater heights. Even more relevant is the fact that most of us are not even allowed to cooperate with anyone, boss or otherwise, because of social distancing rules or recommendations.
With that in mind, I’ve come up with a simple alternative that could help you take the place of a coach or superior partner and let you train a little harder.
Before I tell you, let me explain how I came up with the idea. Otherwise, it might just seem too silly.
Borders, sward and blighter
It was 2006, and Newcastle University’s psychology department got ripped off. They had set up a small coffee station that was run on the honor system, but the people were not so honorable.
Students and faculty were supposed to leave 50p (about a dollar) for a cup of coffee and 30p for a cup of tea, but a disappointing percentage of the frontier, sod and rotten people just took their drinks and rushed off.
So the psychiatry decided to do a little experiment. For 10 weeks they alternately stuck one of two posters over the self-service station. One was a picture of flowers and the other was a picture of two staring eyes.
You can probably guess what happened. Sure enough, coffee and tea drinkers spent more than 2.76 times the amount of money the eyeballs looked at than when the flowers adorned the wall.
Apparently, just the illusion, the feeling of being watched, was enough to force people to be more honest. The researchers were stunned: “We thought there might be a subtle effect. We weren’t expecting such a big effect.”
What does stealing tea or coffee have to do with exercising with a superior partner or coach? No, I’m not suggesting that you hang a picture of a couple of staring eyeballs on the wall behind your squat rack, but I suggest that you do something similar: hang a picture of Arnold’s face, or Bruce Lee, or one of them one to athletes with a superior work ethic, preferably an image that has the athlete scowling.
I’m serious. It works out. At least a bit. You see the face of the fitness symbol and when you let up you feel a little ashamed. Granted, the effect wears off after a couple of weeks, but you can drive another wave of guilty workouts by creating a different picture.
It’s nowhere near as good as training with a trainer or someone who is just more advanced than you, but it’s a lot cheaper than The Mirror and a lot less scary.
Related: Mental Strategies for Getting Results
Related: 3 Mental Skills For Weight Training
- Melissa Bateson, “Evidence of Being Observed Enhances Collaboration in a Real-World Environment,” Biology Letters, Sept. 22, 2006; 2 (3): 412-414.
- Feltz, Deborah et al. “Can simulated partners increase the training effort for long-term exercises?” Journal of Strength and Conditioning, September 2020, Volume 34, Issue 9, pp. 2434-2442.