Getting crossed over by a kid in pick-up basketball or lapped by a dude in dad shoes could make anyone want to get faster, stronger, and better — quickly.
Performance-enhancing accessories promise a wearable, get-slick-quick solution: Instantly improved balance, strength, and flexibility.
But has anyone who turns up to work in a lab coat given them the go-ahead? Do necklaces and bracelets really lend an edge, or is it all just fashion fiction? Let’s take a look.
Power Balance currently asserts that their bracelets’ holograms “are based on Eastern philosophies” that are “related to energy” (aka chi or chakras). They do not explain how the bracelet supposedly impacts your “energies” or improves your performance.
However, Power Balance claims to have testimonials from around the globe. Their website lists several professional athletes who wear this wristband. And if tennis player Mardy Fish stands by the bracelet, then who are we to say whether it’s the backbone of his success?
Meanwhile, the Phiten brand, backed by pro golfer Hideki Matsuyama, talks up their Aqua-Titanium technology.
Titanium, a hypoallergenic and highly biocompatible metal, has qualities that balance your body’s naturally occurring electrical currents. Some research backs this statement.
Some believe that products in this realm may or may not reduce pain and fatigue, improve strength, and aid “bioelectrical flow” (a fancy term for the movement of oxygen around the body).
However, this may prove too baller to be true. Earlier research from 2011 takes a dimmer view of Power Balance bracelets, maintaining that they don’t really provide the benefits that the marketing team would have you believe they do.
All the hype begs the question: Do these trinkets actually make a difference? Are you immediately going to transform from James Corden to Michael Jordan with the assistance of a 3D hologram?
Jewelry that claims to manipulate frequencies or electrical impulses within the body has been around since the 70s. Studies have debunked many claims by the manufacturers of older products, and evidence points to Power Balance bands working no better than a placebo. Sorry, guys.
The only advantage of Power Balance bracelets over a lucky rubber band is that they’re way more colorful (and at around $25, way more expensive).
Still, basic performance accessories continue to sell, as is obvious with the sheer number of items crowding the marketplace. Before you stick on your cynical hat, however, these bracelets may not be a shiny pile of faux-spiritual dinkum after all.
So, you ran out to buy a Power Balance bracelet, and it turned out not to be the Green Lantern power ring you were expecting. Never fear!
In one study of the early bracelets, researchers concluded that while the bands worked no better than the placebo, some wearers still might benefit from them because they simply have more self-belief while wearing it.
Other researchers suspect that the same may be true of more contemporary performance jewelry. While the technology behind the Power Balance and its kin might not work, they can create a placebo effect that puts you in the right headspace to outperform yourself.
A similar study of copper bracelets and magnetic wrist straps found that participants with rheumatoid arthritis did not have “statistically significant differences” on pain, inflammation or physical function beyond the good-old placebo effect.
Great. So placebos can offer benefits with absolutely no risk. But didn’t reading this article just ruin it?
Not even close. Research suggests that people can benefit from the placebo effect even if they know it’s a placebo.
Old-school performance jewelry probably won’t work miracles, but there’s little to lose (besides whatever money you were going to drop on your next in-game costume pack on Fortnite).
If someone has the “Secret Stuff” inside them already, believing in a bracelet, necklace, or gaudy pinkie ring could be just what they need to bring it out.
With new technologies and an understandable long-standing skepticism about whether a bracelet can turn you into a winner, Power Balance and its peers seem to be getting less attention. Focus is shifting from energy-wear to smart gear.
More advanced fitness trackers and connected watches are becoming the new way to “write down your track times.” These devices have tons of features, like heart rate monitors and routines. All the bells and whistles help to provide useful real time biofeedback and show data based trends.
Plus, modern wearables are readily available, come in many styles, and often won’t make an especially hefty dent in your bank balance.
Wearable sensors and devices continue to get smarter and more complex. Some recent research gives them two enthusiastic thumbs up and a heart reaction for their ability to track and improve performance.
One study from 2019 looked at information gathered straight from the horse’s mouth (or wrist). Their findings suggested that when some athletes wear a sensor, they may reach the finish line more quickly and are less likely to face-plant while doing so.
In short, people who buy a FitBit may already be motivated to run faster, and their team trainers and medics can help them through slumps in form using personalized information.
Think about it: If someone tells you a hat looks dope on you, you’re then likely to turn up to the club with a huge swag boost when it’s part of your ensemble. (Especially if said hat collects numerical data about your on-fleekness, and your friends can make more educated suggestions about which kicks to wear with it.)
Admittedly, we may be some way off this technology. But it’s fun to dream about cyberhats, and the principle is similar to the benefits of wearing a FitBit.
It might not be what’s on your wrist that makes you a champ, but what was already in your heart (cue the world’s smallest violin).
Power Balance and other low-tech performance-enhancing accessories might work, but only if you count that tricky placebo effect.
A better bet may be trying one of the emerging smart accessories. Though you might still experience a placebo influence, you’ll also get cold, hard data about your performance.
You can use this data to alter your technique or activity level. This can, in turn, create beneficial habits that can boost your overall wellness and improve your performance.
You can’t get swole from a bracelet, the same way no cloak will grant you invisibility in real life. But anything you feel might unlock your inner MVP is worth giving a go.
And yes, we’re still looking for a functional invisibility cloak.