In the past decade, the number of professional athletes that have come out about their use of flotation therapy as an effective tool for stepping up their performance has been frequent enough to take note. Steph Curry and Tom Brady have been two of the most outspoken about the enhancement that the tanks provide, but a growing number of mixed martial artists, Olympians, and even the Navy SEALS have also been utilizing the mystical environment for increasing their ability to get the job done. So how does laying weightless in a tank of Epsom-salt-saturated water, deprived of any sensory stimulation from the outside world, enhance your physical and mental performance as an athlete? The answer to this question is one that requires an approach from several angles, some that you wouldn’t think about, but once informed will make perfect sense.
Floating enhances recovery of the body and mind. The tanks are filled with skin-temperature water, which is about 94 degrees on average, and then about 1,000 lbs of Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) is added to increase the density of the water. This creates a solution that allows the human body to float effortlessly on the surface with a very pleasant, Goldilocks, not too hot, not too cold feeling. The temperature is important because you are trying to achieve “skin-receptor neutral”, meaning that your skin receptors no longer have to process incoming information, and thus your nervous system gets a break. Anyone who has spent enough time doing compound body movements or intense rigorous exercise knows that recovery is not only for muscles and joints, but for the system responsible for sending signals to those muscles to coordinate movement. We think a lot about muscle growth, but we tend to forget that the nervous system grows too, especially when creating new neural connections for movements that we are learning. The weightlessness of the experience allows the muscles to relax more deeply than they normally do because they are no longer fighting the effects of gravity. It’s common to experience joint popping, as your body realigns, and the feeling of knots releasing from muscles while your body relaxes more deeply.
The lack of stimulation in a float tank is another profound aspect that allows for the reduction of cortisol (the infamous stress hormone), but also provides the perfect environment, free from distractions, to practice meditation or visualization. It has been discovered that visualization training is about as effective as the actual physical counterpart. Some researchers even go as far as to say it is more important for athletes because it allows for the proper development of the nervous system side of training without the physical risk of injury. It turns out that when a person gets into a focused state of mind and visualizes something, such as the perfect golf swing, 3-point shot, or Jiu Jitsu take down, they can actually create this experience in such a realistic way that the brain doesn’t know the difference. This then builds a neural network around the activity and done with enough repetition and frequency, will become the muscle-memory that is so necessary for quick responses in fast-paced arenas.
Top all of this off with the fact that you are soaking in a magnesium-rich Epsom salt solution, a compound that has been used for centuries to sooth achy muscles and reduce inflammation, and it’s not hard to see why floating is so beneficial. Magnesium is a mineral that is a co-factor for over 600 different biochemical reactions in the body. Some of these include energy creation, protein formation, gene maintenance, muscle movement, and nervous system regulation. After 60 to 90 minutes of floating, you will feel more loosened up and relaxed than you’ve felt in quite some time.
The bottom line is this, as an athlete, you are pushing your body and mind to the limit. Proper recovery time is necessary to keep you in optimal condition and avoid any injury or illness that may occur due to being over worked. Floating not only provides an environment for you to get this recovery time in, but it provides the optimal environment for such. Pair that with the distraction-less solitude you acquire to visualize your perfect movements and it may be the ideal therapy to take your game to the next level.