Floating for the Gold — Finding Athletic Recovery and Precision in the Float Tank

Athletics Buoy Archery 800

How about some sports trivia?

What do the Seattle Seahawks, the Golden State Warriors, the Chicago Blackhawks, and Michael Phelps all have in common?

You might see this lineup and think “Well, the 2014 Seahawks won the Super Bowl, the Golden State Warriors won the NBA Finals in the same year.  The Blackhawks won the title in 2013 and 2015 while Michael Phelps has won more gold medals than any other Olympian in history! They’re all winners!”

But that’s not all they have in common: they also all used float tanks.

They weren’t alone, either: the New England Patriots, UFC Hall of Famer Royce Gracie, the Chicago Bulls, Olympic Gymnast Aly Raisman, the Philadelphia Eagles, Olympic Gold Medalist Carl Lewis, The Detroit Pistons, as well as literally hundreds of other professional athletes have incorporated floating into their training and recovery programs throughout the years.

Aside from Joe Rogan, we rarely hear about famous people going into detail about the benefits of floating, let alone from an athletic recovery standpoint. Floating seems to be one of the best kept secrets in high-performing athletes. There’s some interesting research that helps explain why, too.

Raising the Bar

If someone told you that laying in the dark on a bed of saltwater could give you superhuman strength or speed, would you believe them? It may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. After all, athletes need sleep and recovery as much as exercise.  The float tank environment is like a super-powered concentrated form of sleep.

One study found that high-level athletes who have plateaued – those who don’t see any additional benefits from more training – would see an improvement in performance after floating in conjunction with visualization techniques, even without additional training.

Put another way, athletes were able to increase their peak performance just by floating before competition. A followup study not only confirmed this result but also showed that floating multiple times between games led to significant improvements over a single float! This demonstrates something that most floaters already know: the more you float, the better it is for you.

Improving Accuracy

There are a few studies that looked at more specific benefits of floating in athletes. Several of these tested how floating affects marksmanship. All 3 studies had a float group and a control group, with participants from all skill levels.

The rifle marksmanship study showed that 75% had a statistically significant increase in accuracy pre- to post-float with no such increase was found in the control group (relaxation without floating). A similar effect was found in the darts study with 80% of participants seeing an improvement. It’s worth noting that in both studies, these improvements were seen regardless of skill level.

Lastly the archery study didn’t see any significant increase in accuracy, but it did show that the float-group had more consistent scores than the non-float group, something that the other two studies found as well.

Speeding up Recovery Time

All athletes are familiar with the acronym, DOMS, or delayed onset muscle soreness.  It is something anyone who trains wants to avoid.  The sooner an athlete can move beyond the soreness and into recovery, the sooner they can get back to training. 

When athletes train, their bodies and need time to recover.  This recovery time depends on many factors, like genetics, age, diet, sleep, and more.  Some of these factors can be manipulated to speed recovery time.  While many athletes look to supplements, the wise choice is to supplement the supplements—with wellness sessions like floating!

Scientists in recent years have started using biometrics to see what’s happening to athletes who float on a physiological level. A 2013 study looked at the effect floating has on lactic acid build-up.

Lactic acid is associated with that post-workout feeling of tightness in your muscles. It’s part of what causes your body to stiffen and get sore. Professional athletes are always looking for new ways to avoid this. They want to reduce the amount lactic acid builds up during a workout to maximize performance.

The study showed that floating after exercise showed a 62% reduction in lactic acid buildup on average compared to the control group. Participants also reported feeling less pain and were back at peak performance sooner.

In 2016, another study showed the same effect with a larger sample size over 9 different sports. Not only were they able to replicate the lactic acid reduction, they also found a significant reduction in muscle soreness and improved mood and reduced fatigue in those that floated.

Putting it all together

Looking at the whole picture, it is clear why floating has been one of the best kept secrets of successful athletes. We’ve written before about floating’s strong stress reduction benefits which showed how floating might help them be at the top of their mental game.  Floating is such a multifaceted wellness tool that its meditative, stress-reducing benefits are an invaluable complement to an athlete’s professional, physical game.

What’s the coolest thing about all of this?  You don’t have to be an Olympian or an NFL player to reap the benefits of floating. It is helpful for athletes at every level. It can be a nice way to cool down after a jog or help you recover after playing in a local league game on the weekends.