THERE SHE IS, for the third time this week. And she’s hot. Dare you approach her? 

Guys have typically been told never to hit on a girl at the gym—it’s, you know, creepy. But recent surveys have shown that, scratch the skin of any workout spot and underneath you’ll find a raging singles joint whose members—both men and women—have more than one kind of workout on their minds.

“I’ve seen many relationships, and even some marriages, that started in the gym,” says Jaclyn Sklaver, C.P.T., a coach and sports nutritionist at NYC’s Peak Perform. “If you’re into fitness and health, chances are you won’t meet somebody in a bar who fits your lifestyle. So the gym is the perfect place to spark romance.” L.A. trainer Holly Perkins, C.S.C.S., founder of Women’s Strength Nation, agrees. “Yes, I see it all the time!” she says. “There’s something primal and sexy about a gym. We’re hot and sweaty, wearing revealing clothes; there are tons of pheromones in the air and music—it’s like its own kind of nightclub.”

In short, not only is the gym not a “no-hit zone,” it can actually be a terrific place to meet potential dates—but only if you do it right. To find out the proper way to make your move, we asked Sklaver, Perkins, and a panel of female gymgoers to tell us the best and worst tactics for striking up a conversation—and possibly a relationship—with that girl you’ve got your eye on. Here’s what they told us.

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Plan your approach carefully

You get one shot at making a first impression, so be smart about it.

Start by finding a way to (inconspicuously) work out near her for a while. If you’re both in a class, grab a floor spot near hers to stretch. “It’s more welcome to say hi in a class,” says gymgoer Diana K. “After is great, too,” says Sklaver. “You’ve shared an experience, so you can bond.”

But beware: “Never interrupt a woman when she’s midset or midexercise,” says Sklaver. “We’re focused 100% on our workout, and it could create a negative feeling toward a guy, even if he’s drop-dead gorgeous.” The same goes if she’s wearing earphones: Unless you’re trying to annoy her, wait till she’s taken them off.

And make sure your impromptu close encounter doesn’t look like a bout of stalking. “Do not follow us!” says Sklaver. Read: Don’t use every piece of equipment right after her or stay near her for hours. One “spontaneous” run-in a day is plenty.

A last tactic: “Ask a staffer about her,” Sklaver says. “We often have the lowdown; we can tell you if she’s single, married, psycho—we can even help break the ice.”

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Get her attention in a friendly way

Start with “eye contact with a short linger,” Perkins says. “Smile, be cool, and just say, ‘Hey.’ That’s all you have to do to create intrigue. If she’s interested, she’ll perk up.”

Just be sure to look friendly, not scary. “Guys sometimes make eye contact with a weird grimace,” says Diana K., “and I’m like, Uh, is he making that face at how I look, or is that his way of flirting?”

You can also politely ask to work in with her on a machine—after she’s finished her set. “If she says OK, return the weight to what she was using when you’re done. That means a lot to us,” says Sklaver.

And be a gentleman, she adds. “Let her go ahead at the fountain, even if she’s filling a bottle. ‘Ladies first’ goes a long way.”

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Start a low-key conversation

When the moment seems right, you have three basic choices: the comment, the compliment, and the “Can you help me?”

The comment: “Say something about the music, the gym, or a goofy member,” says Perkins. Or bring up the equipment, says Sklaver, like saying the cable’s not working right. After a class, go simple, like, “Wow, that was tough.”

Or notice her gear in a not-too-personal way: “I took a Spin class behind a guy, and afterward I said, ‘I’m dying to know, is that a surf slogan on your shirt?’ ” says Diana K. “So we ended up talking.”

Next approach: Compliment her in a way that doesn’t require a response, like, “You really killed it on those pushups.”

“This is my No. 1 suggestion,” Sklaver says. “When she’s done with a set, say something like, ‘You’re so focused’ or ‘Getting stronger!’ Women work hard, so if others notice, we feel like a million bucks.”

Finally, the “Can you help me?” ploy:
“Believe it or not,”says Christina S.,“asking for her help with equipment or form can be very attractive.” Sklaver agrees.
 “A guy who can admit he doesn’t know everything is a major turn-on—it shows humility and confidence.” So if she’s doing a new stretch, ask her to teach you. Or ask her for a spot. “Just be sure she can do it— don’t try it on a 400-pound bench press.”

But no matter what you do, don’t drag it out. Right now you’re just a couple of hardworking gym rats, so say your bit and move on. If she’s into you, she’ll find you.

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Don’t condescend, show off, or leer

There are a million wrong ways to get her attention—here are just a few: Don’t ask her if she needs a spot—if she does, she’ll ask for it, says Sklaver.

Don’t correct her form, either, she says. “Unless she looks like she could break a limb, let her do her stuff.”

Another turnoff: Making a spectacle of yourself, “like doing half reps with super-heavy weights,” Sklaver says. “Acting like a brute won’t impress us.”

Trying to out-rep or outrun her are also nos. “Humble is better!” says Christina S.

Also bad: grunting excessively. Duh.

Finally—and most obviously—avoid anything that smacks of crudeness, like staring as she bends or checking out her breasts. “And don’t tell her she has a nice ass,” says Sklaver. “Just don’t.”

Perkins puts an even finer point on it: “Women want to feel safe in the gym, so don’t be a dick of any sort!”

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Know how to take a hint

For this, you need to lower your “rejection meter” to its most sensitive setting—that is, learn the signs of interest and disinterest, and when you see the latter, get lost.

“If she smiles and ‘lights up’ at you or makes small talk, those may be signs she’s interested,” says Perkins. If not? “She’ll politely thank you and go back to her workout—and possibly move to a different area.” When that happens, back off.

Of course, even if she does seem interested, staying laid-back is crucial. Overeagerness is unattractive at best and downright intimidating or scary at worst. She’ll seek you out if she wants to.

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Make your big move carefully

Once you’ve made eye contact, shared a few words, exchanged names (Tell her yours first. If her answer’s silence, well…), and she seems open, your next move is…

Nothing. At least not today. Wait till you see her again, be friendly, and if she still seems open, then make your play.

A great one: “Suggest grabbing a drink at the smoothie bar—everybody’s hungry after a workout,” says Sklaver. “If she says she’s busy, don’t be offended; she may legitimately have plans. But do ask to meet up another time.”

Or simply offer a casual, “We should go out/get a drink/work out together some time. May I have your number?” If she shoots you down or doesn’t mention it the next time, it may not be happening, Sklaver says. “But at least you tried!”