Floating for Athletic Performance
“Our bodies are capable of anything. It’s our minds we have to convince”
I participated in a research study at the University of Utah last year. A major goal of the study was to better understand how much harder the body is able to work when the mind doesn’t get in the way. To begin the study, they tested my quad strength via an isometric leg extension. They then gave me nerve block, which allowed my brain to signal my muscles (so I could still extend my leg), but prevented my muscles from sending feedback to my brain. The block kept me (my mind) from feeling how fatigued I was. Normally the body unconsciously protects itself by downgrading its effort as exhaustion increases, but without this mental barrier my quadriceps produced 15% more force.
This phenomenon shows up in our training and in our lives in many other ways. Whether it be a lack of confidence, a struggle with focus, or an inability to calm ourselves under pressure, our minds can keep us from performing our best. Many athletes, including Steph Curry, Tom Brady, and the Chicago Cubs, use float tanks as a way to break through the barriers our minds have built up.
Floating Teaches the Mind to be Quiet
Floating is deeply relaxing, and the more we practice getting into relaxing states, the easier it becomes, even under challenging circumstances. Tom Brady reportedly listens to a recording of a noisy football stadium while floating. By exposing his relaxed body and mind to sounds commonly associated with stress and pressure, he trains his ability to find quiet within himself when it’s fourth and goal and the crowd is roaring.
Floating Increases Confidence
Visualization has long been a tool of great athletes to increase confidence. This is because the brain cannot tell much difference between a vividly imagined victory and an actual one. Visualization in a float tank takes “vividly” to a whole new level, and athletes float to shut out external stimulation and instead focus on clarity of mind.
“There are a lot of benefits to the [tank]. It’s the only place I’ve found in this world that you can eliminate all the senses to try to master your thoughts.”
Floating Helps Improve Skill-Based Movements
When the brain is resting, it rehearses new skills and information. Studies on floating support this, showing that it improves skill acquisition and accuracy, and athletes are starting to use floating to hone their skills. These results have been observed in everything from marksmanship to free throws. One such study looked at dart throwing. Participants began by testing their accuracy to set a baseline score. Then those not in the control group underwent one of three treatments: guided imagery, floatation, or floatation with guided imagery played near the end of the session. Participants who just listened to a recording of guided imagery scored slightly worse on their posttest; those who experienced floating for an hour increased their score by 11.5%; and those who received both floatation therapy and imagery increased their accuracy by 13.3%.
Also published on Medium.