I imagine it may be different for different types of "stretches".
Mild stretching within your natural comfortable movement range like the type you might naturally do when you wake up or after sitting at a desk for a while is probably fine. Similar to what a dog or cat will do when they wake from a nap--they are not extending past what is normal and comfortable then holding the stretch for 30 seconds, right?
As others mentioned, "static stretching" where you are stretching to the limits of your flexibility and holding the stretch for a while, say 30 seconds (or whatever)... That is generally recommended only after you are well warmed up these days. Of course, some dance instructors and others, well it seems like they haven't got that memo yet. So I always walk before a dance or yoga class to make sure I am warm. Oh, my dr. also seems to have not gotten the memo. She prescribed me with static stretches to help with an injury but gave no advice about warming up first in fact she suggested doing them in the morning and at night. So not everyone shares this recent advice. I did warm up anyway as to me that makes better sense--I know I get better quality stretching in after a workout. When I started to see the physical therapist my dr referred me to, he didn't prescribe any static stretches but some mild dynamic stretches and strengthening exercises.
But I will do mild stretches throughout the day when I feel stiff--these probably do little or nothing to improve my flexibility but they feel nice and prevent stiffness--I think that is what Spark was suggesting in the morning.
There are some types of "stretching" or mobility work that can be done in a warmup. I.E. dynamic stretches and flowing stretches where you are flowing or moving through a range of motion. So thinks like flowing yoga, tai chi, dynamic stretches may be okay on their own or after a warmup. In my warmups I often do "joint mobility" exercises--these are not really stretching but related to flexibility. You do exercises that move your joints through their natural movement range--I am not sure I explained that right. But ankle circles, shoulder circles, etc. A lot of workouts recently include these in the warmup and I started doing them for other activities as they seem to help. I am not sure if I consider joint mobility exercises to be stretches though, but they are related to mobility/flexibility.
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