Maybe it’s been a while since you last hit the gym. But 2014 is a new year, and you’re approaching your new gym membership with gusto.

Good for you! But the gym has its own set of behavior rules, and being unaware of them will earn you a few dirty looks. Worse, being unfamiliar with the basics will make you feel out of place, and that could derail your fitness plans.

So here are some important gym etiquette tips straight from fitness professionals:

1. Meet with a Trainer

Take advantage of any get-acquainted tours or free sessions with a trainer that are included in your membership.

Polly Monson, a New York-based personal trainer and the owner of CentralSweat, says, “Even if you know training sessions are not in the budget, use the session to let the trainer show you how to use some of the equipment. This will help you feel more comfortable when you’re working out on your own.”

2. Ask Questions and Make Friends

There’s no shame in being new, so don’t be shy about asking questions—you’ll avoid injury and embarrassment. Josh Anderson, a certified personal fitness trainer and the owner of Always Active Athletics, says, “Learn from observation and ask questions. Trust me, everyone has been there.… Most people actually like being asked questions—it makes them feel like an expert. Plus, it's a great way to make friends.”

Meredith O’Brien, a personal trainer and running coach based in Virginia Beach, Va., adds, “Say hi to the staff and get to know other members. Creating a community makes you want to keep going back.”

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3. Stay Focused

Tom Griesel, a co-author of TurboCharged: Accelerate Your Fat Burning Metabolism, Get Lean Fast and Leave Diet and Exercise Rules in the Dust, agrees with Anderson, but adds, “Most ‘regulars’ are more than happy to answer questions if you don't impose too much or too often.”

So be polite and friendly, but keep long chitchat sessions out of the gym.

4. Take Classes

Victor Cabezas, a group fitness instructor at The New York Health & Racquet Clubs, advises, "Take some fun classes so that you can meet other gym members, and introduce yourself to the instructor. Once I know your name and look you in the eye, we both will own your commitment to stick with your resolutions. Plus, group classes make working out more fun.”

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5. Dress Appropriately

The gym is not a fashion show. Coach Traci Brown, a three-time U.S. Collegiate Cycling Champion and former Team USA member, says, “Worrying about fancy attire takes energy away from your workout.”

So keep it simple. Inappropriate or loose clothes could get caught on machines and create a health hazard.

Pat Barone, a certified personal trainer, weight management counselor, and yoga instructor, adds, “Avoid excessive makeup, cologne, or aftershave. Makeup plus sweat equals acne, and cologne plus sweat equals air pollution. Also, hair should be secured. I saw a long ponytail get caught in a weight stack last week…. This could have caused a serious injury.”

6. Carry a Personal Towel

When you’re finished using gym equipment, wipe away the evidence of your efforts. As Anderson says, “Nothing is worse than going to use a bench that is loaded with sweat!”

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7. Leave It the Way You Found It

Not only for courtesy’s sake but also for safety’s, put equipment where it belongs when you’re finished. 

Brown says, “Unrack your weights when you're done. Leaving them on the bar is just lazy and uncool.”

8. Give Other Gym-Goers Their Space

It can be difficult to make room for everyone who wants to be at the gym during peak hours, but do make an effort.

Brown’s gym-etiquette rules include not crowding lifters (“you don't want to find yourself in the path of a lifter doing lateral raises with 80-pound dumbbells”), not getting between lifters and mirrors (which, she adds, “are used to assess proper form, not for fixing hair and makeup”), and using the gym’s designated areas for activities like stretching (“no yoga poses in the weight room”).

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9. Share the Equipment

The concept of “working in” is key to fitting in at the gym. If your rest period between sets on a machine is 30 seconds or longer and you see someone waiting, ask whether he or she wants to work in.

O’Brien explains, “Allow people to work in—alternate sets—and ask to do so yourself, rather than standing around waiting. This can also help build gym-based friendships and camaraderie.”

Brown says, “It's probably not a good idea to ask to work in if there's a huge difference in [free weights] or bench position, but on machines with weight stacks, it's an easy switch to pull the pin and change the weight being used.”

10. Keep It (Reasonably) Quiet

Devin Gage, the owner of Gage Strength Training in West Chester, Pa., has this to say about headphones: Keep them at a reasonable volume.

Then there’s the issue of ostentatious grunting and groaning. Gage says, “I get it, you're strong. But leave those noises for the bedroom, and try to contain your animalistic behavior, because it can make others feel uncomfortable. If you're going for a one-rep max, people will understand—but [avoid] the grunting and screaming with heavy lifts.”

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11. Keep Going

Some regular gym-goers avoid the gym in January, waiting for the “resolution rushers” to give up. But the experts have some great advice to help you not give up!

Anderson advises writing down your goals: “This sounds simple, but it's amazing how motivational putting your goals onto paper is,” he says. “You can look at them when you’re having a bad day … they will remind you what you’re working for.

He also suggests setting small milestone goals on your way to a larger goal: “It’s okay to have an overall lofty goal of, say, losing 30 pounds over the course of the year, but have ‘sub-goals’ that are more attainable.”

Griesel says, “Learn to use a variety of equipment. Change your routine every month or two to keep things interesting and efficient.”

All in all, just keep in mind that the Golden Rule applies at the gym. Stay alert to what’s going on around you, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and enjoy a healthier 2014!

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