I Tried A Float Tank: The Best Recovery Tool You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

"Celebs like Wayne Rooney swear by sensory deprivation float tanks for muscle recovery and mental wellness so we decided to give it a try."


Wanita Nicol |

Ask any personal trainer or sports coach and they’ll tell you that recovery is one of the most important factors in any training regime. Whether your goal is to be faster, leaner, stronger or bigger, you need to give your body enough rest and repair time if you have any hope of achieving it.

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And it’s not just a physical thing. When you’re stressed, you can’t perform at your best, so getting a good mental reset regularly is just as important. Sensory deprivation float therapy, or Floatation-REST (reduced environmental stimulation therapy) as it’s officially known, ticks both boxes. So amidst the angst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when home office back pain was at an all time high, I decided to go give it a try.

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What Is Sensory Deprivation Float Therapy?

Floatation-REST is nothing new. Football legend Wayne Rooney reportedly has a tank at his home and credits regular float sessions with helping him recover from injury faster. NFL GOAT Tom Brady uses his personal tank to prevent injury by speeding up muscle recovery. And his former team The New England Patriots have had two tanks at their home base outside Boston since 2014. The idea is to deprive your body of stimuli, including light, sound and gravity. The theory goes that removing stimuli allows your body to to enter a non-reactive state where you can fully relax and “reset”. Kind of like switching yourself off and on again.

How It Works

You float in a one-person pod, in water that’s heated to skin temperature (between 34.5 – 36.5 degrees celsius) and combined with 350-380kg of Epsom salt to create buoyancy. Once the pod is closed, there’s no light whatsoever. And once the water has stopped sloshing and you’ve slipped down with your ears beneath the surface, sound disappears as well. The buoyant salt water removes the need to tense your muscles against the effects of gravity, so you feel weightless.

float
Fear of the dark? You can choose to have different-coloured LED lights give you a dose of colour therapy while you float instead.

Floating For Recovery

Stefan Bester, who owns Neuro Float , where I booked my session, is a personal trainer with a particular interest in helping his clients achieve better mind-body connection. Before starting Neuro Float, Stefan tried floatation therapy for his own recovery.  “Floatation provided me with a tool for muscle recovery. I can really feel my body recovering physically and mentally a lot faster than before,” he says. “I also realised that gravity has a huge effect on our bodies. It can be negative, especially when you have bad posture. Removing the gravitational pull from the spine while floating released any back pain I had from sitting or driving.” Being marinated in Epsom salt (a.k.a. magnesium sulphate) has additional benefits, as magnesium is essential for various processes in the body, including muscle and nerve function.

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Mental Benefits Of A Float Session

By removing almost all stimuli, sensory deprivation gives your nervous system a break from processing millions of signals at once. And the benefits for your mind can be as profound as a day off exercise is for your body. In a 2018 small study of 50 patients with different forms of anxiety, published in PLoS One, researchers found a single floatation therapy session reduced symptoms of anxiety to the point of being non-anxious after the float.

READ MORE: I Was Young, Rich and Had Crippling Anxiety. Here’s How I Beat It. 
Another study in 2014 found a series of 12 floatation sessions reduced pain, stress, depression and anxiety in participants and increased their sleep quality, optimism and mindfulness in daily life. Stefan notes similar findings with his clients. “Something that stands out for me is the fact that it helps clients with stress, anxiety and muscle tension,” he says. “And that it really shows them how busy their minds and thinking are, especially the first 15 – 20 min in the pod. The relaxed facial expressions after sessions, are priceless moments.”

The A-Z Of A Float Session

At Neuro Float each tank is in its own separate room with a shower. Before you get in the tank, you need to rinse off. Then you climb in, starkers. You can wear a costume if you want, but Stefan recommends going au naturel for the most distraction-free experience. Close the lid, and float for your allotted time – you can choose a 30, 45 or 60-minute slot. The sound of music playing signals that your time is up. You can then have a quick shower – toiletries and towels are provided – before heading on your way.

What It Feels Like Inside The Pod

If you’ve ever gone camping in the middle of the desert you’ll remember the absolute darkness of your tent when you switched your torch off at night. That’s what you see when you close the pod. Except increased air pressure lets you know you’re in an enclosed space. I thought I might feel claustrophobic, but I didn’t at all, possibly because I suddenly had no idea how close or far the sides were. It’s also absolutely silent.

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Your breathing will sound very loud. To get into the zone faster, concentrate on taking slow, deep, controlled breaths. I’d never realised how much gravity weighs us down until I wasn’t bound by it any longer. With my muscles free to relax at will, the tension left my neck and my lower back. I slipped into a weird half-sleep state. My thoughts flitted past, random and strange, like waking dreams. By the time I heard music playing far in the distance, I felt like I’d been gone for hours.

The lid works with hydraulics so no chance of getting stuck inside ’cause you’re so blissed out your arms don’t work any longer!

How Hygienic Is It?

The tanks are reassuringly sanitary. The room was brightly lit so I could inspect my tank and I found nothing untoward. Stefan was also happy to explain the – very thorough – cleaning protocol that he routinely follows. It involves daily sterilisation with hydrogen peroxide, an ozone water purifier and regular replacement of the water and salt, in addition to other routine checks and procedures at regular intervals. With COVID-19, there are additional precautions. Each client gets screened and temperature tested. The pods and entire studio get disinfected after every session.

How Often Should You Float?

A one-off session is great when you’re feeling overwhelmed – I felt more relaxed, less tense and had better clarity for about three or four days. For lasting results, though, you’ll need to go at least once a month. But if you can afford to go more frequently, Stefan does a 45-minute session every week. Most of his regular clients also float weekly.

READ MORE ON: anxiety mental health muscle recovery recovery

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