Carl Lewis, said to be the world’s greatest athlete, used in-tank visualization techniques to prepare himself for his gold medal long jump at the 1988 Seoul Olympics: the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys have been using flotation tanks since 1981 to develop the physical and psychological skills of their players; the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport) has been using tanks to train their successful Olympic squads since 1983.
Peak athletic performance depends on a coordination of physical, mental and emotional skills. Modern training methods focus on helping the athlete to master “the inner game”, to develop that cool synchrony of mind, body and emotion which is the hallmark of a champion. The most potent psychological technique for building up skill and confidence simultaneously is visualization. In the tank, an athlete can achieve the level of concentration necessary for visualization to have a dramatic impact on performance. This is one of the most exciting new developments in sports science.
Floating maximizes the benefits of fitness training. High intensity exercise stimulates the muscles to grow, but the actual growth and strengthening takes place during relaxation – usually 30 to 40 hours after the stimulation occurs. The deep relaxation of the floatation tank improves circulation and accelerates the growth and regeneration of muscle tissue. Strenuous physical exercise can also cause a rapid build-up of lactic acid in the muscles; a toxic by-product of anaerobic glycolysis. This is experienced as fatigue, pain and cramps, which can last for days; it is also linked to feelings of depression and anxiety known as “post-game letdown”, which can even affect recreational joggers. Floating is one method of reducing the effects of lactic acid and removing other waste materials from the body. This reduces the risk of over-training.
When flotation tanks are used for sports training they are frequently equipped with in-tank video facilities. In the tank the athlete enters a relaxed, focused and highly receptive theta brain state. Instead of simply visualizing perfect performance, the athlete watches repetitions of perfectly executed sports moves on the screen – up to 1,000 repetitions in one hour. Perfect sports technique can be “programmed” into the neuromuscular system as a conditioned response. Studies at Stanford University have indicated that one hour of this “muscle memory programming” method is superior to ten hours of repetitive field practice. This technology is now available to the amateur sportsman through a company called SyberVision, who produce sophisticated audio-visual training packages for golf, tennis, bowling, self-defense and most other popular sports.