Warming-up involves activity that prepares you for the upcoming workout.  As the name implies, a warm-up is used to “warm up” your body by increasing blood flow and releasing muscle tension, as well as to increase awareness.  The warm up helps you both mentally and physically.  When you warm-up your muscles they become more relaxed, allowing blood to flow quicker and provide more oxygen. 

It is important to warm-up before stretching.  If you stretch before warm-up, your “cold” muscles will be more susceptible to pulls, or even tears, during your stretching or during your workout.

Most athletes stretch both before and after working out, in the interest of reducing injury.  While there is some question as to the validity of this, stretching does have its benefits.  For one thing, stretching helps to strengthen muscles.  In addition, stretching enables one to increase range of motion (ROM).  A full ROM means a muscle can go without tearing or pulling.

An example of stretching is to bend over and touch your toes, holding the position until it becomes uncomfortable, usually for 15 to 30 seconds.  Another example would be to lean against a wall, pushing out first one leg, then the other, and holding the position.  These types of stretches are called static stretching. 

Another type of stretching is known as ballistic (or dynamic) stretching.  Ballistic stretching involves bouncing or rhythmic motions, such as kicking one’s leg up in the air.  This type of stretch is less effective, and more dangerous than, static stretching.

Some people believe stretching is important to reduce the likelihood of muscle soreness after exercise.  There are many studies that both prove and disprove this theory, so the case for reducing muscle soreness is still out for deliberation.

In addition to a pre-workout stretch, you may opt to stretch after your workout.  This can be known as a cool down.  After an intense workout, stretching is valuable in helping the muscles to relax, and bringing your heart rate down slowly.

Note the similarities and differences between warming-up and stretching.  They may appear the same but they really are different.  Warming up alone does not affect your muscle’s ROM; however, a warm-up followed by stretching can indeed increase your ROM.

Both warming-up and stretching have their advantages.  Stretching itself does not prevent injury, but a warm-up prepares your muscles for stretching, which aids in avoiding any injury.

To achieve the best results of your workout, you should do both.  Remember to do your warm-up first, and then your stretch.