Picture the typical health club commercial. Does it involve huge muscular guys lifting heavy weight and grunting, or perfectly shaped women using a nautilus machine and smiling? Probably. Now, did any of it involve someone stretching or warming up? Probably not.
Stretching and warming up are easily ignored, even in commercials for gyms. Yet they are vital to an effective and safe workout. By stretching and warming up, you drastically reduce the chance of an injury. Not only that, but they generally enhance your performance and help you get more results from the same workout.
The first thing to do before a workout is warm up - don't stretch first, your muscles are cold and vulnerable to pulls. Warming up loosens the muscles and gets them ready to be stretched. You can do this by walking, jogging, riding a bike or using an elliptical machine. Do this for about 5-10 minutes.
Next comes stretching. Thanks to your warm-up, your muscles are not tight and are more flexible. Try to hit every muscle group when stretching. The key to stretching is knowing how far to go; you want to feel a little burning, but if it starts to hurt, you have gone too far. Stretching is just supposed to get your muscles ready for a workout; you don't want to hurt them before it even starts.