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Float Therapy for Muscle Recovery

In this blog, I have suggested a lot of uses for floating. They include weight control, managing PTSD, increasing creativity, reducing stress, and improving sleep quality, to name a few. But I haven’t yet gotten around to writing about its most spectacular success. So this week, we’ll look at float therapy for muscle recovery. And we will understand why many athletes consider float therapy to be as important a part of their training as workouts.

Not Chemical, But Physiological

Before we get started, however, I want to dispose of the “common sense” argument. For untold generations, athletes have relieved muscle soreness with Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) baths. The float therapy chamber uses about a thousand pounds of Epsom salt, so it is the ultimate in Epsom salt baths. Unfortunately, there is little to no scientific evidence that Epsom salt relieves soreness. There’s not even much evidence that its magnesium or sulfate can get past the skin when you bathe in it. A page at PainScience.com goes into considerable detail on the lack of science in Epsom salt bathing.

So I think it is safe to say that the value of floating is not chemical but physiological. Put simply, floating helps muscle recovery by helping the muscles to relax. That may be as much of an explanation as most athletes need. But there is science, too.

Scientific Studies

A 2013 study found that “flotation REST appears to have a significant impact on blood lactate and perceived pain compared with a 1-hour passive recovery session in untrained healthy men.” (REST stands for restricted environmental stimulation technique.) The study compared the response of untrained young men who had exercised to fatigue. Half of them floated for an hour and half sat in chairs for an hour doing nothing. And, while the study found floating reduced pain, it found no impact on muscle strength, blood glucose, muscle soreness, heart rate, or perceived exertion. Note the distinction between pain and muscle soreness.

A 2016 study, however, found improvements in both mood and muscle soreness in elite athletes who floated. This particular study, however, was not evaluating the effectiveness of floating, but the effectiveness of napping during the float compared to staying awake. It found that napping helped even more than floating alone, although the help was not dramatic and occurred only in some of the areas the researchers looked at. My own experience is that napping seems to enhance the value of floating. But that may be because I don’t get enough sleep otherwise.

Float Therapy for Muscle Recovery

If you exercise regularly and intensely, you probably already know how floating helps to relieve exercise-induced pain. But if you don’t exercise regularly and intensely, and you want to start, you should plan to try floating as well. I want to make this suggestion as strongly as I can. If you are taking up exercise for the first time or after a long sedentary period, the after-effects of your first workout may tempt you to give it up. Don’t. Exercise is just about the best medicine for nearly any health problem. So, rather than be deterred by post-exercise muscle pain, book a floating session here at Peak, and plan on floating after every intense or extended workout. You’re far more likely to continue your exercise program if you take advantage of this recovery technology.

Photo: “Upper Traps” by Dreaming in the deep south is licensed under CC BY 2.0