Static passive stretching (more commonly referred to as just static stretching) has been used by coaches and athletes for years without question.
You may be aware of the current debate that started some years ago now, questioning whether static stretching prior to exercise really deserved the credence it has...
Once a staple part of the warm up, many strength and conditioning coaches are now suggesting that static stretches should be avoided just prior to competition. Their advice is based on a number of studies that have linked detrimental performance in power, maximal voluntary contraction, balance and reaction time tests with a static stretching routine shortly before (1,2,3,4).
However, before disregarding static stretching entirely (as a component of the warm up), it's important to take a closer look at the research. By no means have all studies found static stretches to have a negative effect on power performance (8,9,10,11). And in many studies that have found a negative association, the effects are often minimal (12,13).
Remember that this debate relates to an acute bout of static stretching prior to exercise. It is still considered important and benefical to athletes away from competition to to bring about a long-term increase in range of motion...
While dynamic stretches may be more suitable as part of a warm up, static stretching is more effective at increasing range of motion.
Static stretching is slow and constant and held at an end position for up to 30 seconds (5,6). Static passive stretching uses an external force to hold the stretch in position. No muscle groups are statically contracted to hold the limb in position - as they are with static active stretching.
An example is holding one leg outstretched with the heel on the floor to stretch the hamstrings. Both floor and bodyweight act as the external forces to bring about the stretch in this muscle group. Lying supine (i.e. flat on the back face up) with one leg held extended at right angles to the body (hamstring stretch) is a static active stretch. If a partner holds the leg in that position it becomes a static passive stretch.
A static stretching program effectively increases range of motion over time (7). This chronic adaptation may reduce the risk of injury as it increase the safe range through which a joint can be taken without injury occurring to surrounding muscles and ligaments.
Perhaps most importantly, from the athlete's persepctive, regular stretching improves force production, speed and jumping ability (13).