The Winnipeg Free Press Investigates Sports Bracelets

In today’s Winnipeg Free Press you’ll find an article entitled Wrist management: Can trendy sports bracelets actually improve your game or are they glorified rubber bands? In it, you’ll find a satisfying investigative report by Carolin Vesely on the subject of Power Balance and similar sports bracelets.

Photo by Bill Ebbesen (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)

I’ll excerpt some of the good bits here, but please read the article if you’re at all curious about the claims being made.

“That sounds like gibberish to me,” [University of Manitoba kinesiology professor Todd] Duhamel says. Biofields can be measured, but “we don’t know what everybody’s biofield should be; there’s no ‘normal’ biofield frequency” where we can say, ‘Oh, you’re at 47.7 hertz and therefore you’re out of whack because you should be 49 hertz.”

Wearing a watch or ring made of metal will also influence your electrical field, he says, but any ions or other electricity or radiation emitted would only penetrate to a depth of one or two skin cell layers. And it doesn’t make sense, says Duhamel, that something worn on the wrist would affect how your legs work.

“I’d love to see scientific evidence. The fact that they’re making claims about strength and balance but not making an actual health claim would tell me that they have no evidence that it actually affects the human body in any real, meaningful way.”

Renny says iRenew should have results of its latest clinical studies on the website by the end of February. The tab marked “research” currently opens to an empty page, save for a photo of a muscled, braceleted young man hooked up to machines while running on a treadmill.

One of the main marketing tools used by the bracelet companies is a balance test. The test subject is asked to stand on one leg and hold his or her arms straight out to the side. The tester then pushes down on the arm on the same side as the raised leg until the subject falls off balance. The subject then puts on the bracelet and repeats the test — without toppling over.

Gem Newman, founder of the Winnipeg Skeptics, has an explanation.

“It’s a trick sometimes called applied kinesiology,” he says. “The first time when they’re pressing down on your arm, they’re pulling very slightly away from your body. It’s imperceptible to the subject, but they’re pulling you off balance.
“However when they put the wristband on your arm or in your hand, they’ll pull down on your arm again but slightly toward your body.”

Members of his group exposed the “trickery” for visitors at this year’s Red River Ex, where they happened to have their booth near a vendor of Energy Balance bracelets.

Anyone can test this out for themselves at home with a friend, says Newman.

“I’ll usually do it with my magic iPhone.”

When she was writing the article, Carolin Vesely contacted me about some of the claims these hucksters were making. I gave her a brief overview of some of the tricks they use to convince people that their balance or flexibility is improved, and tried to put her in touch with Richard Saunders of the Australian Skeptics. Unfortunately, the time difference apparently made it difficult to conduct a telephone interview, so you’re stuck with me, instead.

For those interested, here’s some news coverage from Australia that, while being rife with false balance and anecdote, does conduct a miniature blinded trial:

Because the claim isn’t addressed in the video, I feel the need to point out that in the segment where flexibility is being tested by having a “skeptical” reporter twist at the waist, it’s common for the subject to be able to twist around more fully on the second attempt than on the first, regardless of whether they’re wearing a rubber band.

Credit where credit is due: Richard Saunders and the rest of the Australian Skeptics deserve high praise for the work that they’ve done combating the vigorous nonsense promoted by Power Balance and their imitators, so I’ll give Richard the last word. Here he is demonstrating exactly how this so-called “applied kinesiology” trick works. It’s easy to do, and I highly recommend trying it out for yourself!

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One thought on “The Winnipeg Free Press Investigates Sports Bracelets

  1. Meanwhile, over at Vita Health’s head office, general manager Brenda Comte says the LifeStrength power bands ($29.99),which claim to supply more negative ions than any other wristband on the market, is a hot seller at the store’s six locations.

    *Twitch*

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