Why Athletes Should Float
Floatation – REST (restricted environmental stimulation technique/therapy) has been used in the sporting world with great success since the early 1980s. Some of the first professional sports teams to utilize floatation therapy include the Philadelphia Eagles, the Philadelphia Philies and the Dallas Cowboys. In addition to these major sport franchises, various olympic athletes such as Carl Lewis, Jade Johnson, and Tasha Danvers have all used floatation – REST to improve their athletic performance. Research suggests that flotation tanks boost an athlete’s performance in three different ways: control over the negative effects of stress, elevation of their mental training and decreased recovery time after demanding workouts and races (Hutchinson 1984).
For athletes, stress management is of the utmost importance. When athletes experience an abnormal amount of stress they can suffer from depression, apathy, decreased self-esteem, irritability, weight loss, increased vulnerability to injuries and impaired performance (Kellmann, 2010). Flotation therapy has been used successfully in clinical stress management and has been found to reduce blood pressure, cortisol levels, and other stress-related neuro-chemicals such as norepinephrine, adrenaline and ACTH (Hutchinson, 1984; Kjellgren, 2003; Bood et al, 2006; Dierendonck, 2005).
These neuro-chemicals are known to trigger the fight-or-flight response, which as Hutchinson notes, is very good for “lifting a truck off a trapped body, tearing out someone’s liver, or running like hell in mindless terror, but not so hot for the kind of clearheaded strategy, pinpoint accuracy, total concentration, and perfectly coordinated finesse required in most sports”. By eliciting the relaxation response, flotation therapy puts the athlete in a calm, unshakable, steady, centered, alert, totally concentrated state of mind that allows them to work at peak efficiency.
Researchers have known for quite a long time that an athlete’s mental game plays an extremely important role in their performance. A study by Richardson (1998) perfectly sums up why floating works so well to improve an athlete’s mental training. He writes: “Flotation-REST works to enhance athletic performance because it provides a profoundly relaxing experience in an environment conducive to greater amounts and better quality of sports-related imagery, planning strategic thought processes than possible in other environments”.
The tank allows the athlete to control every aspect of the desired athletic experience. They are able to walk through each step of the technique or match and fully focus on the visual, auditory, tactile and olfactory imagery. In the study Body Thinking: Psychology for Olympic Champs by Suinn (1976), it was found that the true key to effective imagery is deep relaxation. Suinn also found that float tanks are able to increase the production, intensity, clarity, and controllability of mental imagery. Clearly flotation therapy has incredible benefits for athlete’s looking to step up their mental game.
Both high-performance athletes and recreational exercisers know that the ability to balance training stress and recovery time is of the utmost importance. To date, there is no uniform agreement on the amount of rest needed between training sessions, mostly because this will vary depending on the total volume of resistance training, the individual’s fitness level, and their overall goals. However, Rhea (2003) concluded that 1-2 days rest between sessions should be optimal for most untrained and trained athletes.
Floating reduces the total amount of recovery time needed by increasing blood circulation, lowering lactic-acid levels, and alleviating the pain of injuries. By relieving gravitational pressure, blood is able to circulate more freely and reach joints, tendons, muscles, and ligaments that may be sore or injured. This increased circulation allows your body to carry away waste and biochemicals such as lactic acid – a toxic by-product of glucose metabolism. Lactic acid accumulates in the muscles during intense physical activity and can cause pain, tightness, and cramping. In addition to reducing the amount of negative biochemicals and increasing the good ones, floating can also provide athletes with pain relief. The release of endorphins, coupled with the ability to become extremely aware of knots, tensions, and painful spots allows for athletes to heal faster and overcome fatigue.
By reducing stress and recovery time, as well as providing an extremely relaxing environment, flotation therapy provides undeniable advantages to both high-level athletes and recreational exercisers. If you’re looking for a new and effective way to improve your performance on the field, track, rink or court, call us at 618-726-2633 to book your first session!
Bood, S.V., Sundequist, U., Kjellgren, A., Norlander, T., Nordstrom, L., Nordenstrom, K., Nordstrom, G. (2006). Eliciting the relaxation response with the help of flotation-rest (restricted environmental stimulation technique) in patients with stress-related ailments. International Journal of Stress Management. 13(2):154-175
Dierendonck, D.V., Nijenhuls, J.T. (2005). Floatation restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST) as a stress-management tool: A meta-analysis. Psychology and Health. 20(3):405-412
Hutchinson, M. (1984).The Book of Floating: Exploring the Private Sea. Quill Books, New York.
Kellmann, M. (2010) Preventing overtraining in athletes in high-intensity sports and stress/recovert monitoring. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 20(2):95-102
Kjellgren, A. (2003) The experience of flotation-REST (restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique: Consciousness, Creativity, Subjective Stress and Pain (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from www.diva-portal.org
Rhea, M.R., Alvar, B.A., Burkett, L.N., & Ball, S.D. (2003). A meta-analysis to determine the dose response for strength development. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 35(3):1601-1607
Richardson, S.O. (1998). Imagery, progressive muscle relation and restricted environmental stimulation: enhancing mental training and rowing ergometer performance through flotation REST (Masters dissertation). Retrieved from https://circle.ubc.ca/bitstream/id/20654/ubc_1998-0593.pdf