A little over a year ago, I began stumbling onto more and more reports on a product called Power Balance, a silicone wristband that boasted the ability to tap into the body's energy field to improve balance, strength and flexibility.
Celebrities endorsed it by the dozens, while people online were raving about it. Given its claims, it's no wonder: this is a tiny piece of plastic with two holograms on each side, pretending to hold the key to a myriad of problems.
As I said in the article from back then, the people behind Power Balance vouched it was not a scam, because it used the same principle employed in age-old practices like acupressure and acupuncture.
Intrigued (and seeing the interest my initial coverage of Power Balance generated in readers), I contacted the company making this so-called revolutionary product posing as the solution for both athletes and regular people. After all, who wouldn't want to be the best they can be?
In June this year, I got a package in the mail: in it were two fancy little boxes, containing two separate bracelets, one white and one black, both in medium size.
From the start, I noticed that, for a bracelet made of plastic, the wristband was very nicely packaged. It comes in 5 different sizes (from XS to XL) and several colors, including red, blue, and orange.
To make my test as objective as possible, I gave the black bracelet to my best friend, keeping the white one for myself – it was fancier, too, just suitable for a girl.
The first couple of days, I noticed nothing different, except for the fact that many people were very intrigued about what I was wearing on my wrist: they would confuse it for a watch and couldn't understand how I could read time on such a minuscule piece.
Then, I realized something had changed. Though I've never been what one may call the hyper-active type, I do like to be on the move a lot: I go for jogs in the morning when the weather is nice, strength train, go on walks and, when my schedule allows me, also go to the gym for aerobics classes.
The very nature of my work makes it so that I welcome every little help I can get in terms of being more physically active: the dangers and disadvantages of a job behind the desk at the computer are well documented in specialized literature.
I was, either way, determined to test Power Balance starting from the premise that it might just not work. Imagine my surprise when I realized, two weeks into the testing period, that I was feeling better than ever.
I wasn't that surprised either that the wristband didn't work as I believed it would, especially since the makers say it acts differently with each wearer. I didn't feel more energized or stronger – instead, I slept sounder and better than ever.
My college formation and current occupation (together with some medical issues we shan't get into now) have left me with back pains that, when stress and exhaustion are added in, translate into insufferable headaches and poor quality of sleep.
With the Power Balance, I would wake up refreshed and completely relaxed, as if the previous day had been a holiday. My friend told me he had also noticed the same, but only after I made sure I had not informed him of what I made of the changes.
Two more weeks passed (still with excellent sleep at night and clarity of mind during the day), and we decided to switch back to our previous, un-Power-Balanced selves.
I took the wristband off during lunch hour and barely made it through the rest of the work day. I felt I could die right there from the lack of energy. I got home, went straight to bed, and, upon waking up a mess the next day, decided the bracelet worked and I would never remove it again because the experience without it had been horrendous.
Thus I continued for another three weeks. It was very warm outside already and because I didn't want to get a tan with the band on my wrist (girls will be girls), I removed it one day and decided I would deal with whatever evil should befall me without it.
My friend agreed to do the same, and we would meet later to talk about how the experience had been for both.
The next day, I woke up and sensed nothing different: oddly enough, I still had slept well without the band. I went to the office and willed myself not to think of it (and particularly of not having it on me), which, it seems, was easy enough because I got caught up in work.
And so, one week passed, then two, and three, and four. After a month – and still seeing no difference – me and my friend put the bracelets back on. Still nothing.
We wore them for another week without any change and then, after doing lots of research online about the tests you can perform with the Power balance, I put it through the paces on my friend.
He, of course, had no idea what it was all about: we did all the (blind) tests recommended by the makers themselves using the bracelet and replacements, and we noticed no difference.
After many months trying to at least come close to understanding the mysterious ways in which Power Balance worked, we came to the conclusion that it does what it says only when the wearer knows s/he has it on.
Claims of the Power Balance Wristband
“Optimal health and peak performance occur when your body maintains ionic balance (the exchange between negative and positive charges) and free flowing energy pathways (harmony) at the optimum frequency,” reads a post on the official page of the product.
“Power Balance, after years of research and development, has produced a system to safely restore and optimize the electro-magnetic balance within the human body… immediately,” it is further said.
“Power Balance’s Mylar Holographic Disk (the same substance used to keep static electricity from damaging electrical components) has been embedded with an electrical frequency that restores your body’s electrical balance, promoting a free exchange of positive and negative ions and align your body’s energy pathways,” the post reads.
None. There is not one single study to confirm the claims made by the makers of Power Balance. Even those who endorse it can't tell how it works, choosing instead to go for the “it depends on the wearer” excuse.
Moreover, the Australian Skeptics have proved all the claims of improvement in physical condition are bogus and entirely dependent on the wearer knowing s/he has the hologram on.
In other words, the Power Balance works only if you want it to, which is only a more delicate way of saying you're paying $29.95 for something to motivate you when you can't find it in yourself to do so.[January 27, 2011]: Power Balance Australia has officially admitted claims of the Power Balance silicone wristband have no scientific backing, were misleading, which means product is a scam. Refunds will be made until June 30, 2011. More on this here.
Whatever improvements in strength, flexibility, balance and (as in mine and my friend's case) quality of sleep and clarity of mind are noticeable are the placebo effect, defined as “the beneficial effect in a patient following a particular treatment that arises from the patient's expectations concerning the treatment rather than from the treatment itself” by the The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.
Then again, if you have the money to dispose of, and you simply can't find it in yourself to motivate yourself in certain situations, the Power Balance can do no harm.
The Power Balance Test – Pro video
The Power Balance Test – Proving it's bogus