French gym culture can teach you loads about the French. While my gym in town isn’t a hip or happening place, it’s still a gym and I enjoy people watching as much as the next gal. But one thing you might notice at my gym (and others I’ve visited in France) is that group fitness classes don’t have mirrors. Or if they do, you’re facing the wall on the other side of the room meaning when you’re working out, you’re not staring at your reflection. I found this really weird because in American gyms, the walls were lined with mirrors. You saw your reflection, it was normal and I liked it.
Mirrors and French gym culture
I’m a huge proponent of mirrors in gyms. For me it’s normal to see your reflection in group fitness classes — along with everyone else’s. So imagine my surprise when I walked into my French gym’s group fitness studio early for the first time, set up my equipment for class and sat down facing the mirror only to realize later on I was facing the wrong direction. The mirrored wall was actually to the side of the class not used at all. We instead all faced the other side of the room, which had a mirror that was entirely concealed by dark fabric. What the heck was the point of that?
For me, mirrors at the gym do 3 things:
- Help ensure my technique is correct. Sometimes what you think you’re doing and what you’re actually doing are two different things. If the instructor says make sure you’re fully extending your arm or keeping your knee over your toe, you may think you’re doing the move correctly but maybe you aren’t. It helps to see yourself. In BODYCOMBAT, I was sure my punches were on point but until I did them at home in my bathroom mirror, I didn’t realize my wrist was bent. I’d been developing this bad technique for months — and I saw it in the mirror at home right away and corrected it.
- Keep me from slacking off. If I see my energy starting to wane (not kicking or jumping as high, punching as hard, etc.), I step it up. I don’t want everyone else to see me slacking off and I don’t want to see myself looking like I ran out of steam. Sometimes you don’t notice your energy is dying until you literally see it in the mirror.
- Give me something to do when my mind wanders. I like to see what everyone else is doing. Yeah, I’m curious and I admit that, but seeing the group is part of group fitness after all. Seeing others working like a dog too can help motivate you when you see you’re not the only one sweating buckets. It’s not as fun when you see just the person next to you peripherally.
But in France?
Well, mirrors in group fitness classes are not our friends. Two separate French instructors told me the same thing. They’re taught in their training that the French actually become discouraged and self-conscious when they see themselves in the mirror and know that everyone else can see them too. They don’t like it at all and will actually not come to class at all or will stop coming if they know they’ll be looking at themselves in the mirror.
I found this hard to believe but apparently it’s true. Seeing myself in the mirror motivates me more and I find it beneficial for the reasons mentioned above. I even asked the manager to try a class with uncovered mirrors for a change but he said people will just complain and he’ll get in trouble.
Totally weird. But that’s how it is!