WHICH COMES FIRST?
Warm up or stretch, which one first?
Which comes first, the stretch or the warm-up? Just like the chicken and the egg question, you can get an either/or answer. Fitness studies indicate though, that to stretch first can sometimes cause muscle damage, so it's best to warm-up before stretching. Cold muscles can be likened to a cold elastic band, if you stretch it before it's warm it might snap.
Now, just what, exactly, constitutes a good warm-up? Good question. Before you go tearing off running like a gazelle in order to heat up your muscles, please be advised that it is always better to go slowly at first and then add intensity. Some good music which will "put you in the groove" and some easy paces, even some dancing, can warm up your muscles and prepare them for both stretching and a later workout. After about five minutes or so, when your body feels warm, you can proceed to stretch.
Why bother to stretch?
Stretching elongates the muscles and, even without any other form of exercise, can be considered very good for the body. With elongated muscles, flexibility increases. One of the biggest problems with weight training is that most people neglect stretching. Adding size and strength to the muscles without stretching them, shortens the muscles and restricts mobility. While it may look good, it doesn't always feel good. Muscle strength increases better with stretching than without.
There are various methods of stretching. Static - similar to yoga where you stretch and reach without bouncing. Ballistic stretching involves moving into the stretch and then pushing the muscle further by gently "bouncing" as you stretch more deeply. There are therapeutic types of stretching, used often in cases of injuries, like PNF and AIS stretching where the muscle is taken to its greatest stretch, released and stretched again, past the last point. This type of stretching should be done with someone who is familiar and trained in the concepts of stretching.
Make stretching fun
For fun and health, yoga provides an excellent format for stretching and strengthening without weights. As the muscles are enlongated, and positions are held for several seconds, the muscles stretch and become stronger and more flexible. With longer, flexible muscles, we tend to move more fluidly and are less inclined to become injured from pulled muscles when lifting, carrying or moving things. Also, when our muscles are warmed and stretched properly, the incidents of injury during exercise are greatly reduced.