If you let your weights slam to the ground, howl, grunt or scream while warming up and make unnecessary conversation with others – you’re badly in need of some gym etiquette. Going to a gym is similar to living in a community, yet many don’t realize that belonging means you’re expected to follow some rules, even though they’re often unspoken ones.

Dale Pettit, personal trainer at World Gym in Paso Robles, Calif., suggests that common courtesies like wiping down a machine and re-racking weights create a communal atmosphere. "It makes members know they’re looking out for each other."

To save you from committing a fitness faux pas, here’s a guide to basic gym etiquette. You may think you know all this, but double-check yourself against our list.

Keep quiet: While the gym is not a library, consider the atmosphere. Don’t sing along to your iPod or chat on your wireless headset. Refrain from offering advice to strangers (unless they ask, of course) or trying to chat with the person next to you.

Dress appropriately: Dress in clean, breathable clothes and closed-toe shoes. Avoid shredded tees, thongs, obscenely tight clothing or heavy makeup. The gym is not the place to find a date.

Mom said to share: If you are in between sets or taking a breather, let someone else use your weights or machine. Basic etiquette says 30 minutes on a treadmill or elliptical machine is enough – but if there’s nobody waiting, staying on is acceptable.

Two’s a crowd: You should never be close enough to another person to identify their type of deodorant or toothpaste flavor. There should be enough gym floor for two people to work out without touching.

Mirror mirror: There are mirrors everywhere inside a gym, so don’t be afraid to look at yourself while working out. However, don’t walk in front of the people staring at themselves in the mirror – they’re usually checking their technique.

Be patient: A machine with a towel or book on it is an indication that somebody is still using it. If the machine you want is occupied, don’t hover or tap your foot.

Instead, politely ask how many sets they have left.

Clean up: Towels are available to wipe off anything you touch. They keep your sweat from getting onto others and their sweat off you. Also, properly re-rack your weights when you’re finished. Leaving them on the floor is more than just rude; it can be hazardous.

© 2005, The Tribune, San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.