Passive Stretching

| July 2, 2013 | Reply

Passive stretching can be deemed as the opposite type of active stretching and is usually performed in a static form (static-passive stretching) (see more details on static stretching here) but can be also implemented in its dynamic form (dynamic-passive stretching) (see more details on dynamic stretching here). During passive stretching, the person who performs it receives an external force onto the moving limb in order to have it moved into a new position. Passive stretching is actually a classic, widely performed type of stretching with confirmed benefits; moreover, in its static form, it is regarded as a suitable way of cooling down after a strenuous work-out program.

How Passive Stretching Works

In passive stretching, you just need to assume the right position and make use of an external force (which can be a stretch band or another mechanical apparatus, another limb of your body – more often an arm –, a partner, the reciprocal force generated when pushing towards a wall or the floor, your own weight, the force of gravity, or the combination of many of these) in order to stretch your muscles, maintaining no engagement in the range of motion. Thus, when executing a passive stretch, the trainee is practically not in direct control of the stretched muscles stretch but just assumes a position and is helped by an external force in order to hold the stretch; thus, when performing a passive stretch, you don’t need to utilize your muscles (with the exception of using your arm muscles to pull a stretch band) in order to stretch them – they stay completely inactive and the external force does all the work!

Due to all these features, passive stretching can be found under the term “relaxed” stretching.

Passive vs Static vs Active Stretching

Many people, even amateur athletes, tend to confuse passive stretching with static stretching. To clear things out, it is vital to understand that the features contained in the term passive are of totally diverse nature compared to those included in the term static: the former refers to the use of an external force in order for the stretch to be carried out, while the latter is simply related to the lack of motion for as long as the stretch is performed (being antipode to dynamic stretching)!

Moreover, for those who are even apt to confuse the above explained types with active stretching, there is a major difference that can be summarized in the following: in active stretching, you stretch your muscles by actively contracting the agonist muscle (the opposite muscle of the one you want to stretch), thus holding the antagonist in a stretched position, without applying any external force which is the exact different to what happens with passive stretching.

Passive Stretching Exercises

Before trying any of the stretches described below you need to carefully read our detailed guide on stretching! Having said that lets describe some examples of passively executed stretches:

  • Chest stretch (photo 1): Stand under a casing placing your palms behind your head; now move a couple of inches forward so as your bent elbows meet the upright columns of the casing and the stretch is felt in the chest muscles (here, the casing “applies” the external force); you can also perform the stretch by simply opening your arms at chest height, with your elbows forming a 90-degree angle, and then pushing against the frame; hold your stretches for the needed seconds (see below). For more chest stretches, click this!
  • Quadriceps stretch: From a standing position, bend your knee behind your body and hold it there by grabbing your foot with your hand which applies the external force needed (photo 2). For more quadriceps stretches, click here!
  • From a standing or a lying position, bring your leg up high and then hold your foot with your hand, or with the aid of a bench or a bar or another person so as to stretch your hamstrings. The hand, the partner (photo 3) or the apparatus (photo 4) are three of the external forces which were mentioned before. For more hamstring stretches, have a look here.
  • Assume a position with one leg forward while reposing your body on the knee of the back leg and slowly lower your hips downward and forwards until you reach a stretching position; in this case, and irrespective of placing your hands on the ground to stabilize your body, your body weight and the gravity are the external forces that help you carry out the stretch.

As you can imagine, the nature of this stretching type makes it possible for an almost unlimited number of exercises to exist. To give you an illustration, stretches for the spine, the back, the chest, the shoulders, the hips, the legs, the hamstrings, the calves, the quadriceps etc. are included in the list of passive stretches (being of course open to be carried out in other stretching types too), enabling a trainee to improve the flexibility of his / her whole body.

In terms of the amount of time that a passive stretch needs to be held, there is a huge diversity of opinions; merging all those aspects and keeping in mind that this type mostly addresses to less trained persons, a stretch could last anywhere between 20 to 60 seconds.


  • Apart from the general benefits of stretching, we need to notice that passive stretching is considered as a very safe type of increasing one’s suppleness, as it does not involve abrupt movements and is highly unlikely to make someone slop their muscles’ limits, thusly lessening the chances of an injury. And this significant level of safeness can be further increased if the external force applied is not the individual’s own limbs but a qualified instructor; likewise, various mechanical devices have been developed, providing a controlled amount of force so as to help the trainee gradually and safely increase his / her range of motion.
  • In addition, it has been proved that passive stretching is also a first rate choice for cooling down after a demanding training session, reducing, among other things, post-workout muscle fatigue and contributing to muscles’ rehabilitation.


  • Some fitness specialists claim that passive stretching exercises are actually mediocre in truly adding to a person’s flexibility, and therefore, they recommend more prosperous techniques, at least for more experienced athletes (like active, isometric, PNF etc).
  • It’s widely approved that pre workout/sports passive stretching causes reduction of strength, reflexes and speed, so this is an aspect someone should consider before opting for passive stretching before workouts!

What To Consider

A fact that you should always have in mind if you eventually implement that type of stretching is that you must not perform the stretches with cold muscles, but only after a proper warm-up (of at least 5-10 minutes).

Photos & Videos

Watch the photos and video below to get a clearer image of passive stretching:

passive chest stretch

Photo 1 – Passive chest stretch


passive quadricep stretch

Photo 2 – Passive quadricep stretch

Calf passive stretching

Photo 3 – Passive Hamstrings stretch

Passive stretching

Photo 4- Passive Hamstring Stretch

Our Opinion

In general, passive stretching is a relatively convenient way of keeping your body supple and flexible, as it is easily performed without much thought or a special technique, and that’s why it is so popular among the least experienced trainees and probably the most appropriate solution for beginners, having the added benefit of a high degree of safety and providing an exceptional cooling down effect after workout. On the other hand, nothing is gained effortlessly, so passive stretching, although pretty decent, it is perhaps the least effective of the other stretching techniques, and for this reason, skilled athletes prefer to implement other, more productive forms of stretches. In any case, it is always advisable to consult with a proficient fitness expert before attempting to perform passive stretches, especially if you have encountered an injury in the past. Once again, don’t forget to read our guide with general principles on what you should do and don’t do in order to achieve more efficient passive stretching!



Category: Types of Stretching

Leave a Reply