Most of us have been taught that gentle stretching before exercise will help prevent muscle strain, soreness and injury. But recent data from Australia refutes this (BMJ, 2002; 325: 468). The evidence comes from a systematic review of randomised controlled trials into the effects of stretching before exercise on muscle soreness and injury. This found that stretching had a beneficial effect on delayed-onset muscle soreness so marginal that it could have been due to chance alone. When it came to injury, a slight benefit was seen among those who had done pre-exercise stretching, but again, the link was not so strong as to rule out the possibility that this may have occurred by chance.
Two other studies also reached the same conclusions (Br J Sports Med, 1998; 32: 212-4; Clin J Sports Med, 1999; 9: 221-7), suggesting that starting out slowly and building up activity gradually may be just as effective as a full stretching routine before exercise. Likewise, gradually winding down towards the end of your exercise routine may help prevent pain afterwards.