How do some NFL players relax before games? They float
With just a few days before the Bengals' game against the Steelers, Lawson has one more item left in his weekly routine. To prepare for the upcoming matchup, Lawson first must find a way to take his mind off the game itself.
That's where floating comes in.
Lawson stands in front of a giant tank that resembles something from a sci-fi movie. He puts in earplugs and gets inside the tank, which is filled with warm water and 1,200 pounds of Epsom salts. The salt content in the water is high enough that Lawson can simply float on top of the water without any effort.
Soon he'll drift off to sleep in the soundproof room.
"I sleep in here a lot," Lawson said. "It might be a little scary if you close [the lid] because you might hear someone snoring in here."
"Floating," or the use of sensory deprivation tanks, has gained popularity in the past few years due to a number of high-profile athletes touting its benefits. 2016 NBA MVP Steph Curry is among the fans.
The tanks have been in use since the 1950s, and Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis used them often while training for the 1988 Summer Games.
Lawson, who has 3.5 sacks this season, tries to make floating part of his weekly routine in addition to regular massages.
"It makes your body feel loose," Lawson said. "You're sitting in meetings all day, you're going to practice. Just to be able to relax your body completely, relax every muscle in your body, the Epsom salts are supposed to be able to be good for you anyway."
The float tank is designed for users to be able to enter a state of total relaxation. The theory is that a 45- to 60-minute session is equivalent to several hours of sleep and allows the body to feel more refreshed the next day.
"I feel like, along with massages, it gets all of the soreness and stress and built-up blood from little bruises throughout your body," Lawson said. "It’s also supposed to be equivalent to four hours of extra sleep. I really like what the float tank does, relaxing my body, making me feel flexible."
But it's certainly not for everyone. The user has to be able to embrace the relaxation aspect to get the full effect. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said several of his younger players, who are always on their phones, probably wouldn't like it.
"You have to be able to handle peace and quiet," Lewis said. "And the guys who can't handle peace and quiet can't stay in there. ... You have to be able to separate from your device."
Lewis laughed when he said that the famously quiet Geno Atkins, the Bengals' star defensive tackle, was one of the players who has embraced floating the most.
"He loves it," Lewis said. "And that's because it's so quiet."
The Patriots and Lions have several players using the tanks, although Lions rookie tight end Michael Roberts said he remembers needing some time to warm up to it.
"It took a lot of mental toughness," Roberts said. "You're just kind of floating there. It's dark. It's warm water. It's warm air. You might get claustrophobic if the water is over your chest. It might get hard to breathe. That's kind of how it was for me. ... The saltwater kind of got in my face, so my eyes were burning. I actually did get out, showered and got back in. I made myself get back in. It was like, I paid for it, I'm going to see what it's like."
Many of the Bengals found out about floating from cornerback KeiVarae Russell, who is known in the locker room for trying every recovery technique -- from acupuncture to cryotherapy. Russell got Lawson and several others to give it a try and even promoted floating on his social media account.
"It's hard not to like. It's an intriguing thing, you just lay down and float," Russell said. "For as much muscle as I've had, even in high school, I've never floated, I just sink once I get in the water. So that was the first time I've ever floated in the water. I liked it ...
"If you're in tune with yourself and you believe in energy and all that, you'll be good. ... But if you're just waiting for something to change or something to happen, you'll be bored."