Weekend Edition

Do Power Balance wristbands work?

When I was training for three different Olympic Games, I was always looking for that added edge; something that could help increase my endurance, strength, flexibility, and even my balance. These are keys to success for any athlete, especially an Olympic gymnast. I remember how grueling the training could be. It was not easy to train for two hours starting at 6 a.m. while pushing myself to exhaustion, then coming back to the gym only hours later for a full five-hour training session with an expectation of more strength and stamina. Since there wasn't much recovery time when I was sitting in school all day, I would resort to popping vitamins, indulging in protein bars, and swigging energy drinks for that edge. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn't.

So when I heard that Power Balance wristbands claim to increase your strength and stamina and improve your balance, the skeptic in me came out. The fact is, all athletes know that nothing can replace good old-fashioned hard work — practice, practice, practice. Well, maybe not Allen Iverson. But the majority of us high-caliber athletes know that the added edge comes from pushing yourself beyond your limit each and every day in practice. It's as simple as that — or is it? Can a silicone wristband with a hologram sticker really give you an added edge?

Surprisingly, many professional athletes believe it can, so I had to try it out for myself. To put things in perspective, nowadays my training consists of yoga, Pilates and plyometrics, which is quite different from my Olympic training 10 years ago —  but the former athlete in me was quite eager to put Power Balance to the test. So me and 15 volunteers signed up to see if Power Balance's claims could be proven scientifically.

A series of tests began with a sit-and-reach exercise, designed to measure our hamstring flexibility. Then came an obstacle course, which tested our balance, strength, agility and stamina. It started with a run across a balance beam, followed by a weight test, where we held 30-pound weights in each hand as we ran swiftly between cones, all while being timed. We were each required to take a trial run without a wristband on. Once the actual testing began, we endured four runs through the obstacle course while wearing one of four different labeled wristbands that had tape covering the area where the hologram on the Power Balance wristband would be. We were told that the wristbands "may or may not contain the hologram" — the element that's supposed to be the "special sauce" of Power Balance, working with one's bodily energy flow to increase balance, strength and/or stamina. You can see the results of our scientific test in the video on this page.

Now, unless this wristband gives me the strength and stamina to train for the London 2012 Olympics, then I will still be skeptical. The idea of competing against my fellow yogis who can hold a posture longer or a stretch further is not necessarily an added edge. That's just me.

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