By Coach Jason Struck
I’ll be honest. The big thing that got me to try floating was my long-standing relationship with Dr. David Berv, co-owner of the Float Zone, and his generous offer to let me try it for free. You see, he’s been my chiropractor, acupuncturist and business colleague for several years. He treats me and my wife, and we’ve been going to his practice on and off for about 5 years. So, when he asked, though I was a little skeptical, I immediately agreed.
While I may have been skeptical, I was also curious and I really wanted to at least try it out. But I also wanted to do my research. When I Googled the benefits of Epsom salt baths or magnesium salt baths, here’s what I mostly got:
If you are anything like me, you may have noticed the number of times “essential oils,” “detoxify,” and “lavender” appeared in these “articles.” So, while they were all VERY supportive, they offered basically nothing in the way of concrete evidence that magnesium sulfate has a direct benefit on our bodies. It’s just a bunch of hippie ladies running their mouths. And that’s the thing about Epsom salt baths: they’ve been popular (and in other forms under other names around the world) for centuries, but they basically amount to an “old wives tale” or “home remedy.”
This was one of the most concrete supports I found, and all it really concludes is that it has some therapeutic effects on the skin. And that was the only one I did find in my brief search of peer-reviewed journal articles. WebMD takes this approach: “It probably can’t hurt.”
While it’s quite harsh, you can tell this is written in a voice with which I can definitely identify. It’s a no-BS breakdown of what we know about Epsom salt and/or magnesium and its effects on our health. Not unlike WebMD, this author seems to come down on the side of “what’s the harm in a bath?” Not a glowing endorsement, but a neutral or better-starting place.
Well, armed with this information, my curiosity was obviously not slaked. I had to experience it for myself. And I did. And did again and again. Here’s an audio recording of me and Dr. Berv discussing my experiences, if you’re more of an auditory learner: http://www.myfloatzone.com/float-zone-radio/2016/8/23/episode-2-jason-struck.
If you’d like to read on, the gist is this: “Floating” at the Float Zone in RVA basically means a luxury, spa-like experience. You get your own suite, with control of the lighting and music, and a shower. You disrobe, shower, and enter a low-lit pod. That pod is filled with water that is about body temperature, and is comprised of a highly concentrated solution of magnesium sulfate. So concentrated in fact, that as soon as you lean back, you pop up into an effortless float. The pod lid can be lowered, and in conjunction with the lights off and the carefully thought out interior design, it essentially becomes a sensory deprivation experience. You can make it pitch black and totally silent (if you want), and you really feel nothing but warm slippery water, which you quickly acclimate to and stop noticing as well. And for an hour, you just lay there, floating, in the dark, with quiet, weightless effort.
I think that’s the magic. The magnesium probably does help you recover from DOMs. It is proven to hydrate your skin. But maybe the relaxation benefits stem from learning to be still for a long time, and just “decompress.”
“But how far can ‘relaxation’ really take me, Jason?”
Well, when I started floating, I had a dislocated rib and was on a restrictive diet to drop a weight class. I was training hard. Nevertheless, when all I could do was jerk (because of my ribs), that’s what I did, and I hit a lifetime PR from the blocks at 290lbs, while dieting from from 200lb body weight down to 190lbs. When my ribs started to heal up (which only took about a week between two floats), I started deadlifting again. Shortly after that I deadlifted 530lbs conventional (Lifetime PR by 30lbs) and 550lbs sumo (I don’t even know how big a PR that really was, but the last time I tested it was 405lbs).
There’s something about the weightlessness and the downtime that seem to really sooth my CNS. I would feel totally relaxed, almost high, when I walked out of the Float Zone. And the rest of my days were typically very chill. But then I felt so fully recovered the following day that I was ready to destroy the tasks/training in front of me.
In short, I struggled with the actual experience at first, but I started to see several benefits. And now I love it. I plan to make floating part of my pre-competition ritual for every contest I do from here on out.