My curiosity was piqued recently on a last-minute Christmas shopping trip. As I wandered round the sports section of a local branch of a department store, my mind was struggling to contend with the mental challenges of garish festive displays, oppressive crowding and music so good it’s only played for a few weeks every year. As the drudgery wore on, my eye was drawn to what seemed to be an exciting new product, it was presented very well with attractive graphics and sleek matt packaging. The box contained what seems to be a thin rubber bracelet with two small holographic discs embedded diametrically opposite each other. What did it do? The box claimed it was ‘Performance Technology’ but even after prying the box open and scanning the contents I could find no explanation or instructions on how this technology should be used.
The world of Sport is full of new technologies for increasing performance, our research centre has a PhD student who’s days are filled trying to measure technology’s effect. Every now and then a company comes up with something seemingly so effective that it is banned from competitive use by the sports governing body. A recent example is the basketball shoe banned by the NBA, which incidentally might be a cynical marketing ploy. However there are many examples where technology is used purely to market a product, with little or no evidence to support the claimed benefits. Which was this? Upon returning home I did some research into Power Balance. It didn’t take long to find phrases that rang alarm bells,
Power Balance is based on the idea of optimizing the body’s natural energy flow, similar to concepts behind many Eastern philosophies. The hologram in Power Balance is designed to resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body.
A youtube video also explains that technology programmed into the hologram interacts with the bodies energy field. Resonating holograms? Programmable holograms? This all sounds suspiciously new age, phrases which contain a combination of words which in isolation refer to some new science or technology but when combined fail to mean anything much at all.
Youtube is packed with videos of balance and flexibility tests which show the benefits of wearing the band. There is also an informative video detailing the techniques used to achieve the apparent benfits of the band (apparently the technique is referred to as ‘applied kinesiology’). The product is endorsed by some top flight athletes, Shaquille O’Neill being in their number (obviously a product not yet banned by the NBA), and there are numerous positive reviews online.
It seems like the product has been around for a couple of years at least, but it seems oddly coincidental that the day after I learn of their existence the BBC publishes a story announcing that Power Balance have been forced to refund customers in Australia. The chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission remarked:
Suppliers of these types of products must ensure that they are not claiming supposed benefits when there is no supportive scientific evidence…
Consumers should be wary of other similar products on the market that make unsubstantiated claims, when they may be no more beneficial than a rubber band.
Well there you go, although the technology in manufacturing rubber bands shouldn’t be taken for granted, it’s not the type likely to increase your sporting prowess.
Any readers out there that use a power band and think otherwise? I’d be interested to hear about your views in either direction.
7th January 2011 – Just noticed a BBC article showing a lot of the English Cricket team wearing the bands in a photo celebrating their ashes win. Evidence to support their effectiveness? I’ll stay sceptical for now…