In December 2015, in the midst of a record-setting 22-0 start to the NBA season, the Golden State Warriors’ star Stephen Curry invited ESPN to follow him and teammate Harrison Barnes into their secret weapon: the neighborhood float center! Watch their firsthand account of how floating helps with muscle recovery, overcoming travel stress, and increasing focus.
With its unique combination of physical and mental benefits, it’s little wonder that floatation therapy counts professional and amateur athletes among some of our biggest advocates. The relationship between floating and athletic performance is a complex one, with many possible reasons why so many elite athletes have taken up floating.
Physical Benefits of Floating for Athletes
- Healing: When faced with injury, many athletes turn to floating to help them recover more quickly and return to the game. Researchers believe the high concentration of Epson salt in a float tank plays a part in helping the body more quickly recover after injury. (1)
- Pain relief: As any longtime runner can tell you, most athletes deal with injury throughout their lives—and even after they’ve hung up the football helmet or tennis racket. Floating, according to many athletes and everyday floaters, gives an instant and immediate release from chronic pain and lingering injury. (2)
- Better sleep: Floating helps improve the quality of sleep, which can be crucial leading up to highly competitive athletic events.
Mental Benefits of Floating for Athletes
- Stress relief: Like in most professions, athletes perform better when they are not plagued by stress! While performing under pressure is unavoidable for most athletes, floating provides a much-needed escape and enhanced sense of relaxation.
- Increased focus & concentration: The meditative-like state of floating may deserve all the credit for providing athletes a boost of focus and concentration. Studies have found that basketball players threw more free throws and archers performed better after floating, indicating a higher level of mental focus during competition. (3, 4)
- Positive visualization: In their detailed document on floating, the Australian Institute of Sports utilizes floating to help promote positive visualization and mental rehearsal during training sessions. (5)
Of course, you don’t have to take our word for it. Here a few of the more famous athletes who float:
- Carl Lewis, Olympic gold medalist in track & field
- Peter Reid, 1998 Ironman champion
- Pat Healy, MMA fighter
- NFL teams the Philadelphia Eagles & the Dallas Cowboys famously used floatation tanks in the 1980s
- Wayne Rooney, Manchester United’s star soccer player, reportedly uses his own in-house float tank up to 10 hours per week, and credited it with helping him recover from injury more quickly.
- Jade Johnson, competitive track & field athlete. Johnson has said, “I have always used physiotherapy and massage to help injury recovery but floatation is different. When I float I can really feel a lot of pressure being taken off my back and when I compete I feel calm and my mind and body feels in balance.”
- In 2015, players from the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks made daily visits to Tempe, AZ float centers throughout the week leading up to the Super Bowl. Reports even have it that Tom Brady has a float tank of his own at home.
In fact, Steven Hauschka, the Superbowl-winning Seattle Seahawks kicker (clearly a man who understands the mental and physical components of athletic performance!), floats weekly at a Seattle float center. In an interview with the float center, he said: “When I set aside an hour to float, I always come out feeling amazing both physically and mentally. It’s like a reset button for me and I can accomplish so much in that one hour it’s incredible…First I like to do 10 deep breaths. I visualize being on the top of a mountain inhaling the cleanest coldest air you can think of. When I exhale, I imagine all the toxic, negative things in my body leaving as black smoke. After this drill I sometimes will just relax for the rest of the float and decompress. Other times I will visualize good kicks, but in general I am in there to relax.”
- The Acute Effects of Flotation Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique on Recovery From Maximal Eccentric Exercise, Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, December 2013.
- Effects of flotation-REST on muscle tension pain, Journal of the Canadian Pain Society, Winter 2001.
- Primary process in competitive archery performance: Effects of flotation REST, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, May 1998.
- Floatation REST and Imagery in the Improvement of Athletic Performance, Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 1990.
- Floatation Therapy Current Concepts, Austrialian Institute for Sports.