fitCarl Lewis, said to be the world's greatest athlete, used in-tank visualisation techniques to prepare himself for his gold medal long jump at the 1988 Seoul Olympics: the Dallas Cowboys, winners of the 1993 Superbowl, have been using float 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. In the words of Jeff Bond of the AIS: "The floatation tank represents a new dimension in sports training for the elite athlete".

Floating maximises the benefits of fitness training and work-outs. 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 float tank improves circulation and accelerates the growth and regeneration of muscle tissue.

Strenuous physical exercise can cause a rapid build-up of lactic acid (a toxic by-product of anaerobic glycolysis) in the muscles; this is experienced as pain, fatigue and cramps which can last for days; it is also linked to the 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.

Most sports injuries are not contact injuries but are the result of inappropriate muscle tension. Floating has been shown to loosen the muscles and give athletes a greater degree of control over their autonomic nervous systems, reducing the risk of injury during training or competition. Even when injuries occur, floating speeds up recovery and the endorphin effect alleviates the pain.

Peak athletic performance depends on a combination 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 visualisation; in the tank, an athlete can achieve the level of concentration necessary for visualisation to have a dramatic impact on performance. This is one of the hottest new developments in sports science.

When float 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 visualising 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 neuro-muscular 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 an American company called SyberVision, who produce sophisticated audio-visual training packages for golf, tennis, bowling, self-defence and most other popular sports.

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