Nothing sends gym regulars scampering to find a new time to hit the iron than the annual influx of “This year I’m gonna…” newbies. Normally I love that late afternoon sweet spot of 3:30 to 5 pm, right before the after work crowd lands but after I’ve got my day’s work largely done. Since I hit the sack at 8 pm that still leaves plenty of time to relax.

However when the annual lemming-like rush to punish one’s self arrives, many of us permanent gym rats head for higher ground- the really off hours of the day – at least until the rush peters out around Valentine’s Day.

There are good reasons for this.

A great many folks who have never been in a gym before aren’t aware of such a thing as “gym manners.” These are basic courtesies that regulars allow each other while we maneuver our way around the accident-waiting-to-happen gym floor.

For example: you never walk in front of someone who is working out while facing the mirror. To neophytes, this may look like narcissism.

It isn’t. We’re watching our form, and ensuring that every rep is done safely. This prevents injury. Proper form is everything. You’re an unnecessary distraction when you march back and forth in front of folks who are concentrating, and not in a nice way. It’s rude.

Another is equipment courtesy. Gym beginners sit on machines or benches texting away, and that means others can’t use that bench or piece of gear. On a busy night when folks are doing a very focused workout, it’s beyond piggish to hog gear while you’re tweeting your sweetie. People will ask if they can work in, especially if they only have limited time to get in their workout.

It’s just basic gym manners to let them especially if you’re taking a break between sets. Getting snarky is a good way to friends or end up with one of the trainers in your face. Not only that, the folks you annoy aren’t going to spot you if you drop the chest press across your pecs and your noodle arms can’t get the bar back up.

Asking around to make sure someone else isn’t using a piece of gear or a bench is just common sense. I’ve often set up a bench with multiple weights – a clear indication that the bench is in use- then walked over to the fountain for a quick drink. I can’t count the number of times that guys are clearing away my gear without checking around to see if it’s in use. People usually know if it is most times, and they notice if you’re taking over without asking.

Lift safely. This means several things. First, NEVER lift beyond your capacity just to be like the gorilla in the corner or to show off for somebody you’re eyeballing. If you’re watching someone else while you lift, you’re an accident waiting to happen. If you lift a barbell or dumbells that are too heavy, you can injure yourself very seriously or drop weights that can bounce in unpredictable directions. Always know your limits. Strong people never drop their weights. They are in complete control at all times.

Especially if you’re new, always put a clasp on the bar to secure your weights for chest or shoulder presses. Invariably you will forget that one side is heavier which can send heavy plates and a 45-lb bar flying in any direction. Not only do you look like an idiot but someone can get badly hurt.

Most gyms have clearly stated safety rules posted around the lifting area. Dropping weights, or not respecting others’ safety can get you kicked out fast.

Every time I’m in the gym I see people using momentum to cheat reps, slinging weights in ways that hyper extends their lower backs, or throwing iron around in a manner guaranteed to put them in traction. They hyper extend their knees while doing standing exercises which strains the spine. It’s just a matter of time before the body gives out. Not only does this look ridiculous and amateur, they are begging for a permanently damaged back or ripped rotator cuff. They’ll blame the weights.

The weights aren’t the problem. The problem is that often, people don’t care to learn proper form, safe lifting techniques and invest the time it takes for results to show up. The problem is that at the gym, egos often outstrip common sense. Men trying to impress us women or competing with someone two benches down will pick up far more than they can handle. Inevitably that leads to folks giving up after they injure.

The best way by far to avoid these kinds of mistakes and accidents is to invest in a trainer. Get someone to show you proper form, equipment operation and how to re-rack your weights. That’s required of all of us. A third of my time at the gym is spent picking up gear people leave lying around right in the middle of high traffic areas. Being a part of the gym community means looking out for others, even those who are rude or inconsiderate. However, if you don’t have time to clean up after yourself, wipe down that sweaty bench or re-rack your weights, perhaps the gym isn’t where you belong. Truthfully, the rest of us sure don’t want you there.

Lots of folks quit the gym all too soon because they didn’t take the time to really learn their way around. Find out the program that works just for them. Then, build the confidence to know what to use, how to use it and the perfect form that, after time and patience, leads to the results that they want. Like any sport, and lifting is a sport in and of itself. Lifting/bodybuilding can deliver lifelong results as well as make you far better at all your other sports. Confidence comes through competence, in the gym as with everywhere else. People who treat gym work or bodybuilder as a serious skill are professional in how they handle themselves, their courtesy and respect towards others. We love seeing folks get results.

This year, if you hit the gym for the first time, hit up a certified trainer as well. Put in the time and the dime to do it right. That way not only will you see results, you’ll be part of a lively community that will become a pleasurable part of your fitness regime.