The Athletes Romance with Sensory Deprivation Tanks


What does the Olympic gold medallist Carl Lewis (track & Field), have in common with the Ironman champion of 1998 Peter Reid or the MMA fighter, Pat Healy have in common with the soccer wizard Wayne Rooney who was credited for Manchester United’s winning streaks in the English League? Well, if you guessed ‘sensory deprivation tanks’ based on the title, you are absolutely correct.


Even entire teams such as the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL and as well as the Seattle Hawks and New England Patriots are known to use sensory deprivation tanks and take on floatation therapy by subjecting themselves up to 10 hours a week in these R.E.S.T tanks in order to recover from injuries, have a clearer focus during games, think faster, be more creative and in general perform much better than they usually would  if at all they were to ‘not’ use float tanks.


Researchers are throwing theories of the ‘placebo effect’ out the window when it comes to floatation therapy because sensory deprivation tanks actually alter physical biology internally as cortisol production (an enzyme produced to manage stress which has negative effects on the human body) is lowered, adrenaline production rates are lowered (as fight or flight response system is practically shut down), endorphins are produced at a higher rate (endorphins are neurotransmitters that play a pivotal role within our central nervous system) which are mood enhancers and when people are in good moods, it is a fact that they are able to make decisions much more accurately and rapidly which is an essential component in high energy sports where speed and accuracy are critical success factors.


Restricted Environmental Stimulation Technique or REST has been utilised in a wide range of sports, one particular study conducted specifically on archers for instance revealed astonishing results based on the fact that within the realm of competitive archery the most critical component towards having competitive advantage is to be able to reinforce primary process related to orientation.


In total there were 20 archers who took part in the study and 10 were subjected to a sensory deprivation tank session for 45 minutes whilst the other 10 were subjected to an arm chair for 45 minutes after which they were required to shoot 4 salvo series of three shots each.


The outcome was that those who floated prior to shooting had a higher degree of accuracy and muscle stress compared to those who were made to sit in an arm chair for 45 minutes.  How this is possible is rather easy to comprehend as Floatation REST involves a simple procedure whereby a person is submerged in a covered water-tank that has been filled with saltwater (Epsom salt) with extremely high concentration of salt which does not allow the submerged individuals to sink due to the buoyancy, and this solution is heated up to skin temperature in order for the individuals not to be able to tell which part of their anatomies are underwater and which parts are above which is akin to removing the effects of gravity and added to the fact that subjects are not able to see, hear, feel or sense any other stimuli, the brain becomes free of having to deal with these external stimuli and ‘turns inwards’ and focuses on our internal wellbeing and optimising whatever functions that ‘needs to be optimised’.


Scientists are starting to agree upon the fact that it is the freed resources of the brain that becomes ‘inner oriented’ which is the driving force behind better athletic performance apart from citing the magnesium content in Epsom salt that seeps through the skin and enhances muscle relaxation, supports the nervous system, regulates the use of other minerals within our bodies as well as the metabolism of nutrients.



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