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Here’s a sports trivia question for all our athletically-inclined readers:

What do the Dallas Cowboys, the Golden State Warriors, the Chicago Cubs, Crossfit Games Athelete Matthew Fraser, The Manchester United Football Club, and Michael Phelps all have in common?


You might see this lineup and think “well, the ‘92 Dallas Cowboys won the Superbowl that year, the Golden State Warriors won the NBA Finals in ‘14, the Cubs made history when they won the 2016 World Series, Manchester United is one of the most hono(u)red Football Clubs in the world, Matthew Fraser took 1st place in the previous 5 Crossfit Games, and 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, and Matthew Fraser has even floated here at Float Madison!

Matthew Fraser: 1st Place Crossfit Games "Fittest on Earth" 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, stops by for a float during the 2019 Games.

They weren’t alone, either: The Green Bay Packers, The New England Patriots, UFC Hall of Famer Royce Gracie, The Chicago Bulls, Crossfit Games athelete Tia-Clair Toomey, 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.


Floating is one of the best kept secrets in high-performing athletes and there’s some interesting research that helps explain why.


Raising the Performance Ceiling

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.


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.


Improved Precision

Beyond general athletic performance, a few studies looked at more specific benefits of floating in athletes.


Several studies tested how floating affects marksmanship. All 3 studies had a float group and a control group, with participants from all skill levels.


In the rifle marksmanship study 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.


While the archery study didn’t see any significant increase in accuracy, 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.


Reduced Recovery Time

While the benefits described above could be explained as a side effect of stress reduction, there’s more to the story of the impact on floating in physical performance, certainly not enough to explain why floating has been so popular among high-level athletes.


Building off of earlier research, 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 that causes your body to stiffen and get sore. Professional athletes are always looking for new ways to reduce the amount it builds up during a workout to maximize performance.


What they found was 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.


A followup study in 2016 was able to replicate this 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.


Matt Miller, Badgers Football. Past: Offensive Lineman. Current: Recruiting Assistant

By now you might be wondering, why doesn't our local Wisconsin Badger Football Team know about the benefits of float therapy? Well, they actually have for a few years now! When Float Madison opened in 2016 we had quite a few of the football players come in to float, some on a regular basis, and although we loved having them in here I really wanted them to get float tanks of their own so that the players would have easier access to them and be able to make floating a regular part of their preparation and recovery. It was the perfect time to have conversations about getting them float tanks as they were planning on a remodel of the football facilities below Camp Randall, and they actually installed three float cabins in 2017.


Looking at the Whole Picture

When you take all of these effects together, you can start to see why floating has been one of the best kept secrets of successful athletes. When you take into consideration the stress reduction benefits as well, you can see how floating might help them be at the top of their mental game in addition to their professional one.



Even without the existential malaise of living through global crisis, our modern way of life tends to exert a lot of pressure on most people. As mental health research evolves, it’s become apparent that what we call “stress” can actually cause a lot of health problems; not just physical problems like heart disease and high blood pressure (although those are certainly significant), but also mental health issues like PTSD, depression, and eating disorders.


Finding ways to recharge is more important than it’s ever been, but there’s a healthy amount of skepticism about alternative wellness practices, with floating being no exception. So how can we be sure floating is as helpful as it claims to be?


Simple. We follow the science!

There was a recent Tedx Talk by a well known scientist, Dr. Justin Feinstein from the Laureate Institute of Brain Research, who shared some of his research findings about the effects of floating on stress. What’s so incredible about this research is that every single person who participated in it experienced some amount of stress relief, with most people experiencing a significant reduction in their stress levels that lasted for more than a full 24 hours after a single session.


24 hours is a pretty long time for any given treatment to work. Just think: if there was a pill that would make you virtually stress free for a whole day, who wouldn’t want that? While floating isn’t quite as easy as taking a pill, the benefits of it seem even more significant than most available anti-anxiety treatments. Not to mention, you don’t have to worry about things like interactions with other medications or other negative contraindications.


Dr. Feinstein has been studying people with stress-related illnesses like PTSD, depression, and anxiety, and what he’s finding is that people who have the highest levels of stress before floating experience the largest benefit. Basically, everyone who floated returned to a baseline level of relief so no matter how anxious you are, floating is going to bring you down to a similar level of relaxation as everyone else.


This is all really fascinating, but how does it work? Is it really as simple as sitting in the dark and not thinking about anything for an hour or more? It looks like it.


Floating allows our minds and bodies to slow down, gives us the ability to recharge more quickly, and puts our brains in a more dreamlike state. The solitude of a float, where we know we can’t be bothered by the outside world, is a massive destresser that is surprisingly difficult to find elsewhere.


To help illustrate this point, let’s move from science to history. There’s a psychologist named Peter Suedfeld who did a lot of groundbreaking research into “sensory deprivation” back in the 60s and 70s. Dr. Suedfeld’s work didn’t focus on float tanks (at first), but instead involved placing people in completely dark rooms in total isolation for 24 hours or more at a time. He called this process REST (Restricted Environment Stimulation Therapy).


At the time, psychologists were very misinformed about sensory deprivation -- they essentially thought it was torture. Previous research was incomplete, and the methods that researchers used were suspect at best. They would prime subjects to bad outcomes before the experiment even began; focussing on negative side effects in their introduction. The experiments themselves involved exposure to constant harsh lights and loud noises -- which doesn’t exactly sound like sensory deprivation, does it? Dr. Suedfeld thought that it was possible to take a different approach and get a positive effect. And he was right.


Dr. Suedfeld focused on keeping subjects at ease and making the process simple for anyone participating. What his research found was that instead of feeling like it was torture, people actually enjoyed the sensory deprivation experience! The subjects felt it was relaxing and beneficial. One participant even tried to sneak in multiple times under different names to repeat the experience!


Over the years, he found out that there was a positive potential benefit to REST in many areas: addiction treatment, helping people with autism, enhancing creativity, and, of course, reducing stress. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that there are entire groups of people who choose to live in total darkness for months at a time and say they find it peaceful.


This research was foundational for the future of float tanks, and helped to key in early on to the benefits of floating and reducing stress. In fact, back in the 80s and 90s, scientists started calling it “Floatation REST” and referring to the dark rooms that Dr. Suedfeld used as “Chamber REST”.


Since then, scientific understanding of sensory reduced environments has only grown, and in the age of information, the benefits of isolation run in stark contrast to how we live our day-to-day lives. Luckily, you don’t need to spend a day in the dark to experience the benefits -- we’re learning now that Float REST can provide similar benefits in just a single session (though of course, the longer you can float, the better).


In his talk, Dr. Feinstein notes how we aren’t designed to be constantly plugged in and looking at screens all day, listening to cars driving by, or dealing with the glare of fluorescent lights non-stop. Neither were we supposed to be constantly thinking about what we have to do next, fit a full 8 hour workday on top of raising families, going to school, and being a part of our communities.


Even when we enjoy these things, they can wear us out and add to the stress of our daily lives. Taking a break can give us a reset button, and floating has been proven to be one of the most effective ways to do that.


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312 E. Wilson St

Madison, WI 53703

(608) 217-3524

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              Sunday: 10AM - 7PM
              Monday: Closed

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