Gaining a Mental Edge: Floating

By Ben Sheard

For any type of athlete, getting an edge over the competition is always something that is going to be sought out. Performance enhancing modalities are everywhere today, whether they be physical or mental. Lately, there have been a lot of physical modalities that seem to be popping up everywhere. Cupping, body tempering, cryogenic therapy, excessive foam rolling, and even colon hydrotherapy has seen its spotlight in recent times for athletes looking for a physical performance edge. What seems to be left out are methods that have been used to gain a MENTAL edge over others, or just to operate at your optimal ability.

The 10/20/Life approach preaches that availability supersedes ability, meaning the athlete who can stay injury free for the most extended amount of time has the best chance for success. Remaining injury free isn’t just about being physically prepared, but also being mentally ready for the lift to remain injury free. Unhealthy fears, such as being afraid of the weight or thinking of reasons you might fail the lift might exist for a large percentage of lifters and can result in injuries when the athlete is unable to “flip the switch” for a lift. There is a quote in the 10/20/Life book that says “To be successful, you have to believe that you can achieve your goal and what better way to build confidence than actually to visualize yourself doing it? Visualization is just another way we practice to succeed.”

Recently I have found a method that is incredibly useful for me to not only help with my visualization of success, but also helps keep my overall stress levels down, curbs anxiety, and also has been shown to help with pain reduction. This method that I have been using lately to gain a mental edge is called “floating.” Floatation or Sensory Deprivation Tank Therapy is when you enter a “pod” filled 12’’ deep of water with 1,000 lbs of Epsom salt in it. The pod is a lightproof and soundproof tank that offers complete isolation of the outside world, giving you ideally 90 minutes of time with zero gravity and zero distractions. It is also known as Reduced Environmental Stimulus Therapy. The effortless floating creates a profoundly relaxing anti-gravity environment, where it is safe to fall asleep or into deep meditation. The spine naturally elongates and straightens, and the body undergoes the same regeneration process that transpires during sleep. The primary way that floating helps ease the pain is through evoking a relaxation response, which relieves tense muscles and helps improve rest and recovery. Sensory deprivation tank therapy has also been shown to lower levels of cortisol, lower blood pressure, reduce fatigue, enhance mental clarity, and eases symptoms of depression, anxiety, low energy, sleep trouble, and burnout associated with high levels of stress. 10/20/Life serves as a platform for a Lifetime of strength training and success in life. We avoid burnout as mentioned above by utilizing deloads for our body (and mind) during training. Think of this type of therapy as a mental deload.

I am a person with a high amount of skepticism about anything that doesn’t create some definitive immediate results, but I’m here writing this because I have received the benefits and would like to pass them onto others. As Brian says in his book, those who consider mental preparation or visualization to be a hoax could potentially be leaving a great deal of potential untapped. I recently did a 90-minute float during my cut week to prepare for my last meet. I can tell you that I left that float with confidence about my upcoming competition that I had not felt before. Even though my performance at the comp did not match up with my expectations, I know that I have never felt better during the weight cut portion of the week, nor did I have any fear about going into that meet 100%. Sometimes the cards just don’t fall the way we plan out, but that doesn’t mean my level of preparedness didn’t match up with my performance.

I have always stressed out the week of my weight cut, wondering if I’m doing it correctly, or why the weight isn’t coming off fast enough for my liking. This time around after visualizing my weight cut in the float tank, I just chilled back and let the weight cut protocol take its course. I weighed in at precisely 198.4 on the dot and put it all back on just like I had planned out. I’ve never been any good at meditating on my own at all but felt that with the use of a float tank I was able to gather my thoughts and see things through. At any given time during an average week, my girlfriend might catch me staring and thinking and ask me what I’m thinking about at that time. Usually, I have no answer. My mind is full of random thoughts that unnecessarily cloud my head and take up space. In the days following my floatation therapy, I was able to know and focus on what I was thinking at any given time.

Most powerlifters are familiar with that feeling that comes before they perform their first squat in a meet. Some call it butterflies, but I relate it to real anxiety before I get my first squat out of the way. This last meet was one of the first times that I had not experienced the feeling of butterflies or anxiety before my first squat. I attribute this to my float, where I envisioned my entire nine attempts before even making weight for the meet. Typically during the meet week, I don’t have any trouble limiting my food intake because of my stress levels over making weight or overthinking my fears restrict my ability even to have an appetite. Good or bad, I even had an appetite during the meet. My sleep patterns went back to what they used to be. I work an afternoon shift from 4 pm to 12:30 am, so I was kind of sketched out about my sleep patterns getting in the way of my performance at the meet. I went from sleeping from about 2 am until 2 pm every day to sleeping a standard 8 hours waking up much earlier and feeling more refreshed. Had I not done my 90-minute therapy session to reduce my stress and restore my sleep, I would have been staying up way too late and get to the meet groggy and depressed.

I’m not here to sell anyone on something that I don’t honestly believe can be an essential tool in gaining a performance edge. The 10/20/Life book clearly outlines that visualization can be untapped potential in athletes who might not have tried it before. The benefits of floating in sensory deprivation tanks are also cumulative, meaning the more often an athlete utilizes it, the more benefits they can receive from it. The mind gets better at using the time towards meaningful meditation with each float session you do. Other users that I know have tried floating before claim to receive a “post-float glow” that can last up to 7-10 days after the initial float. Call it whatever you want, I thought it was stupid for months before even being open-minded enough to try it myself. Along with other tools that I already use, like deep tissue massage and deloading every three weeks, I allow myself to stay in the game longer than my competition. Do yourself a favor, get an open mind and give yourself a mental deload and a psychological edge by utilizing floatation tank therapy.


Want to know more about how you can utilize deloads to get an edge on your training? Pick up a copy of the 2nd Edition of 10/20/Life.


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Ben Sheard

Ben Sheard started powerlifting at age 13, competing in single ply from 1999-2004 back in his home state of Ohio. He started powerlifting again in 2014 after struggling with substance abuse/addiction for over 10 years. Competing as a raw powerlifter, he achieved an Elite Total at 198 lbs. Best raw lifts at 198 are 611 squat, 352 bench, and a 606 lb deadlift. Recently made a transition to Multi-Ply in 2017. Coached by Brian Carroll using 10/20 Life, he achieved a Pro Total in his most recent meet at 198lbs. Best equipped lifts in a meet are an 804 squat, a weak 463 bench, and a 700lb deadlift. He is a NASM certified PT, but works full time as a Supervisor at a Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center in Deerfield Beach, FL. Currently training out of Boynton Barbell Center in Boynton Beach, FL. Ben will be competing next at the XPC Pro Day in Columbus, where he looks to secure a 2,000+ lb total at 198.
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