It's Not Just About Recovery: Floating for Athletes
We have clients that are runners, professional MMA fighters, Crossfitters, yoga instructors, weightlifters, horseback riders - you name it.
The vast majority of our athlete clientele make a point to schedule a session for AFTER a strenuous workout or competition. There is no denying that floating speeds up recovery time in a number of different ways. From the reduction of stress hormones and lactic acid build-up, to the lowering of blood pressure and the release of endorphins. From the relief the zero gravity environment provides to the nervous system, joints and muscles, to the anti-inflammatory properties of the magnesium rich Epsom salt solution. The benefits of floating post-workout are immediate and profound. Tank time after a period of physical exertion also tends to allow you to sink into that "no mind" state a bit easier and faster as an added bonus.
But did you know that there are very specific benefits to floating before an event? The float tank is an incredible tool for mental/physical grounding and performance visualization. Each of these things translates into measurably improved real-life performance.
This is not some far out theory. Although larger, more comprehensive studies are needed - there are a number of small studies and research papers that support this claim.
The Basketball Free Throw Study
This study consisted of three groups. All three groups listened to an hour long guided imagery tape, which focused on shooting baskets. Group 1 listened while floating in a sensory deprivation tank, group 2 listened while sitting in a specialized, nearly enclosed reduced sensory stimulation chair, group 3 listened while sitting in a regular chair within a normal office-type room. The results were fascinating.
These results provide strong empirical evidence of improvement in an athletic skill after floatation REST. All groups received imagery training, the alpha group in an unusually quiet and relaxing environment; although the Flotation REST group evidenced higher post treatment confidence than the alpha group, no significant difference existed within the controls. Thus, expectancy alone does not explain the results. Flotation REST may induce a state of arousal closest to optimal for the task and/or it may enable subjects to return to such a level 24 hours after treatment. Imagery may be more vivid or more accurate in Flotation REST, so that the two components interact synergistically to produce improved performance, or perhaps REST makes imagery more accessible later.
The Dart Throwing Study
This study independently varied REST and an imaginal training and relaxation script to improve accuracy among novice, intermediate, and expert darts players. REST by itself and REST combined with the script were equally effective in enhancing performance (M change about +12%). The imagery script alone and a no-treatment control condition resulted in no change on test-retest measures. The results indicate that in the area of perceptual-motor coordination, REST is not merely a potentiator of other techniques, but a useful and efficient unimodal intervention, which takes a short time and does not require further rehearsal or repetition.
Is Visualization Even Necessary? The Rowing Study
The current study tested the effects of REST, without guided imagery, on rowing ergometer performance, a gross motor, endurance activity. Furthermore, the study attempted to ascertain why rowers might benefit from including a period of flotation in their training regimen, and whether the flotation REST environment was better for mental training than a Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) condition.
Subjects were male novice and varsity university rowers. Subjects were matched based on previous ergometer scores, imagery use, and imagery ability, and randomly assigned to either a floatation REST condition or PMR condition. Both groups were exposed to six administrations of one condition over a 7 week period, during which time they completed three 2000 meter ergometer tests, which were part of their required training schedule. Results showed a significant improvement in ergometer scores for the REST group, with no significant improvement for the PMR group. The imagery data suggest several alternative explanations for the effect of the environment on mental training, while the physical training data suggest a possible link between floatation REST and recovery from physical fatigue.
There are also a vast number of glowing first-hand testimonials out there. Here are just a couple for your viewing pleasure.
Sensory Deprivation Tank Improves Sports Performance & Learning
Floating for Sports - Segment Starts at 2:28
One thing is for certain: extreme exertion requires extreme rest. It's always a good idea for athletes to experiment with the timing of their sessions. Yes, floating is incredible for physical and mental recovery - but don't miss out on the edge a pre-competition float could give you.