Float tanks & sport? – Can top athletes and sportsmen & women be wrong!

on August 30, 2018

Float tanks and sport – What can a sports person hope to achieve by using floatation tanks?

The effects of using float tanks to improve sports performance is one of the most researched areas of REST Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique. At the end of this blog you will find a list of just some of the large body of research that has been done this subject over the last 40 years. It is a fascinating list of experiments.

Sports coaches and trainers the world over use the following ways to help give their clients the edge by improving and enhancing their performance. They are tried, tested and accepted methods used by both individual sports people and coaches. Combining those techniques with the use of the float tank strongly enhances the effects. Floatation is used before during or after these methods depending on the technique.

Who has used floatation tanks to improve sports performance?

Visualiser Jonny Wilkinson

Jonny Wilkinson

US teams have included the Eagles, Sea Hawks and the Cowboys, one of the captains and some team players of the England rugby team, famous UK football players like Rooney, several national Olympic teams, the list goes on and on.

Float tanks and sport improvement – The Body and the Mind

In reality both the physical and the mental are inextricably linked but let’s separate them here for ease of explanation.

The Mind in Sports improvement

Mental attitude;

Mental attitude is so very important in the field of any achievement and in particular in sport. Sport coaches and trainers use an arsenal of techniques to improve the mental attitude of their clients. Float tanks enhance and support the effects of all of those methods.

Reduce anxiety;

Floatation tanks quickly and dramatically reduce anxiety just on their own. Combined with the other techniques used by the coaches this adds up to an extremely powerful and effective anxiety reducing formula.

Improve self-confidence;

Floatation tanks help one feel good about oneself just on its own. It is one of the main reasons people use float tanks. Combined it and multiply the effectiveness of all the other techniques coaches use such as positive thinking techniques, self confidence audio courses, affirmations etc

Improve concentration;

Visualization Any Murray 270x194

 Andy Murray

Floatation tanks can help still the mind allowing one-pointed concentration. Floating allows your mind to go to a neutral place of observation. It allows the sports person to get into what is often referred to as “the zone”. The space where concentration is at its maximum. Where there are no distractions. Acute awareness. Exactly what is needed for optimum performance.

Improve group dynamics;

Good group dynamics are so critical in team sports. Coaches use a variety of ways to achieve this and the isolation tank supports those methods.

Using the psychology of injury;

Here is a list of some of the psychological blocks that can be tackled to aid recovery

  • Feelings of anger & confusion
  • Obsession with “when can I return to play?”
  • Trying to do too much too soon in terms of rehabilitation program (pushing the limits)
  • Denial (e.g., “The injury is no big deal”)
  • Repeatedly returning to play too soon & experiencing re-injury
  • Exaggerated bragging about accomplishments
  • Dwelling on minor physical complaints
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Alterations in diet
  • Guilt about letting the team down
  • Withdrawal from significant others
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Statements like “no matter what is done, it will never get better” For more on this interesting topic go here.

This is a big subject, but essentially float tanks will perfectly augment the variety of ways this can be achieved.

Improve exercise;

It is pretty obvious just how important a sports person’s attitude is to exercise. Improving their attitude to exercise will improve their performance, stamina, self confidence, technique etc.

Mental skills training;

Here again there is a gamut of techniques that are used in sports training such as visualization. Using these techniques improves their effects substantially through the use of the sensory deprivation tank.

Improving sport performance through physical means

Injury recovery

Visualise Wayne Rooney 270x194

Wayne rooney

Deep relaxation of the whole body speeds injury recovery. Body therapists such as physiotherapists, osteopaths, chiropractors, acupuncturists and massage therapists have all found that recovery is accelerated if the person floats before their treatment. They say that after floatation the deep relaxation both physical and mental allows their respective treatments to work more effectively.

Physically relaxing the muscles also prepares them for the task ahead.

Research has shown that the sensory deprivation tank balances the brain’s left and right hemisphere’s bringing a more balances mental perspective. Similarly sensory deprivation brings a balance and harmony to the body’s major systems, lowering high blood pressure, lowering stress inducing hormones are just two effects. Floating has been shown to positively affect the nervous system, endocrine system, the cardiovascular system, the muscular, respiratory and immune systems


Through this mental exercise the physical body is affected directly. Picture yourself doing an action perfectly. Whether it is a team sport or an individual sport. Whether it be playing the perfect racket stroke, kicking the perfect ball, throwing the perfect ball, jumping, running, cycling, rowing whatever.

By visualising this over and over again the mind trains itself to instruct the body to behave that way when its needed. Visual repetition in the mind is a form of practice.

Mark Bailey wrote – visualisation is an understandably popular mechanism with elite athletes eager for marginal gains. The use of imagery primes their muscles to perform correct technique and to execute appropriate actions in competition, but it also conditions their mind to think clearly about how they will react to certain pressures, situations and problems. Consider it a ‘mental warm-up.’

This method is used regularly by many of the world’s best tennis players who are currently competing at the Australian Open. Defending champion Novak Djokovic and 2013 Wimbledon champion Andy Murray both use imagery to prepare for games. Djokovic was taught to visualise his shots to the accompaniment of classical music by his first coach. Mark Bailey

Getting into a more positive frame of mind. This is often done by using audio tapes, having an internal dialogue and repeating affirmations. The effects of these methods are greatly enhanced by floating.

Visualiser Jessica Innes Hill 270x197

Jessica Ennis Hill

Sports psychologist Dr Richard Suinn, the first psychologist to serve on a U.S. Olympic sports medicine team, says visual rehearsal triggers neural firings in the muscles and creates a mental blueprint that can ultimately facilitate future performance. Using electromyographic equipment, Suinn discovered that skiers who simply visualised skiing downhill fired electrical impulses and produced muscle patterns almost identical to those found when the skiers actually hit the slopes.

Adding to Suinn’s remarkable studies, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio found that subjects who only visualised doing biceps curls, five times a week, for two weeks, increased their strength by 13.5%. Naturally, if they had lifted weights the gains would have been infinitely greater.

Again the float tank will greatly enhance the effects of visualization programs. We discussed this a our previous blog.

In Tank Video

Taking it one step further and watch yourself do the perfect action on a screen while floating. Sports people have themselves videoed doing the perfect jump, or whatever action is appropriate to their sport. They then watch that over and over again whilst floating. The deep state of mental relaxation and brain synchronisation helps to imprint that action in a similar way to visualization.

Float tanks and Sport related research

Here is a list of just some of the research that has been done exploring the many aspects of floatation in sports.

  • Baker D.A. (1990). The Use of REST in the Enhancement of Sports Performance-Tennis. Restricted Environmental Stimulation: Research and Commentary. pp.181-187. Toledo, Ohio: Medical College of Ohio Press.
  • Bond J. (1997). “To float or not to float”… is that the question?  How to maximise your use of the Sport Psychology float tanks.
  • McAleney P. & Barabasz A. (1993). Effects of Flotation REST and Visual Imagery on Athletic Performance: Tennis. Clinical and Experimental Restricted Environmental Stimulation: New Developments and Perspectives. pp.79-86.New York: Springer-Verlag New York Inc.
  • Richardson S. (1997). Enhancing Rowing Ergometer Performance Through Flotation REST. 6th International REST Conference. San Francisco.*
  • Stanley J., Mahoney M.& Reppert S. (1982). REST and the Enhancement of Sports Performance: A Panel Presentation and Discussion. 2nd International Conference on REST. pp.168-183. Toledo, Ohio: IRIS Publications.
  • Wagaman J. & Barabasz A. (1993). Flotation REST and Imagery in the Improvement of Collegiate Athletic Performance: Basketball. Clinical and Experimental Restricted Environmental Stimulation: New Developments and Perspectives. pp.87-92. New York: Springer-Verlag New York Inc.
  • Other Atkinson R. (1993). Short-Term Exposure to REST: Enhancement Performance on a Signal-Detection Task. Clinical and Experimental Restricted Environmental Stimulation: New Developments and Perspectives. pp.93-100. New York: Springer-Verlag New York Inc.
  • Barabasz M. & Barabasz A. (1997). REST Effects on Human Performance. 6th International REST Conference. San Francisco.*
  • O’Leary D.S. & Heilbronner R.L. (1985). Flotation Rest and Information Processing: A Reaction Time Study. First International Conference on REST and Self-Regulation. pp.50-61. Toledo, Ohio: IRIS Publications.
  • Morgan P.M (2013) The acute effects of flotation restricted environmental stimulation technique on recovery from maximal eccentric exercise. Northern Illinois University
  • Bayler D (2000) Effects of REST on improving golfing performance
  • Bond J. AIS (1997). Floatation Therapy Current Concepts – Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra
  • Suedfeld & Bruno (1990). Flotation REST and imagery in the improvement of athletic performance – BASKETBALL – University of British Columbia
  • Wagaman J. & Barabasz A. (1993). Flotation REST and Imagery in the Improvement of Collegiate Athletic Performance: Basketball. Clinical and Experimental Restricted Environmental Stimulation: New Developments and Perspectives.
  • Barabasz A, Barabasz A. M & Bauman. (1993) Restricted environmental stimulation technique improves human performance: Rifle marksmanship. Washington State University.
chris brownFloat tanks & sport? – Can top athletes and sportsmen & women be wrong!