I don’t mean to brag, but in elementary school, I was the silver medalist in hula hooping for almost all of recess. Okay, okay, so there wasn’t a medal, per se, but seeing how said non-victory was my last athletic accomplishment, it’s also exhibit A as to why I’ve picked up the hoop for the core-strengthening workout of a lifetime.
Exhibit B is, of course, that I’m not that diligent about exercise. Walking briskly for 45 minutes to my Simpsons podcast is enough for me. So as I turn an eye toward getting healthier, while still hating the hard work, the most important thing to me is finding a workout I love—and boy, do I love to hoop it up. Though my glory days are far behind me, a new hoop, a killer playlist, and some sound advice from a hula extraordinaire, get me back in rotation. Here’s what I learned after two weeks of a hula hooping fitness regimen.
What are the benefits of hula hooping?
First things first. Despite having major nostalgia for recess games, I wonder how beneficial a fitness regimen based on hula hooping could actually be. One study by the American Council on Exercise found that you could burn 210 calories during a basic 30-minute hooping workout, i.e. 420 calories an hour. “People will give you varying answers to that, it really depends on how fast you’re doing it and how much you’re getting your heart rate up,” says Melissa-Anne Ainley AKA the Hula Hooping Harlot.
Ainley, has been hooping for 21 years now, reaching professional status around the time she acquired her Greenpoint studio in 2004, where she still teaches classes today. Oh, and NBD, she holds two World Records for rotational speed (AKA how fast the hoop whips around your body), knocking my playground credentials out of the water. So when she vouches for the fact that it’s a complete, full body workout, beyond simply strengthening the lower abdominals and back extensors, I believe her.
“When people take a class for the first time, they always say to me: ‘Wow, I was really sore the next day in areas I wasn’t expecting.’” Ainley says. “You can hula hoop on your arms, on your knees, on your core, you can really exercise all of your limbs and build up muscle and strength.”
What is my experience like, you ask?
Ahead of day one, I purchase a hula hoop that hits right at belly-button height. A few orbits around my body in, I think, “I’ve still got it.” Then, I immediately knock over my standing fan. There’s recess hooping, contemporary hooping, and whatever the hell I’m doing.
For the next six days, I follow along to all the beginners YouTube hula-hooping videos. The rush of keeping the hoop going forever keeps me going until the end of the videos, and I’m not totally pleading for it to wrap up in the same way I am in other classes. I kind of love it: When I raise my arms up for one rep, I feel the benefits from the waist up. My limbs strengthening as they stay in place, and my hips, uh, thrust quicker to keep the hoop up. It’s cardio, it’s strength, and I am an elegant swan princess. Or at least a goose princess just doing her best.
The downside? Because I’m, you know, hitting my waist with a hoop so there’s soreness around my mid-section, small pink splotches here and there. While they dissipate in a few moments, they may be a tell-tale sign of a rookie mistake.
“I always stress to people who are starting out the importance of stretching and just being careful of your back especially,” Ainley said. “You definitely want to stretch out, people think it’s a toy or it’s something you can just go into, but it’s like any other type of exercise.” She recommends stretching before and afterwards in order to protect your body, with emphasis on back and spine warm-ups.
As week two approaches, I get in the groove. Nothing moves me like the B-52s, which dot my Hula Hooping Playlist. And while I’m still following along to YouTube videos to get me started, I spend my remaining time free-styling with different exercises. It’s almost unbearably fun…and I work up a sweat. A full hour of hooping is no joke. Technically, though, I can warm-up and do a quick, light routine wearing my day clothes. Getting home and hooping for half an hour in a babydoll and ballet flats is way easier than getting home, Lulu-ing, and walking 20 minutes to the gym.
In fact, even when I’m not sneaking in 30-minute or hour-long sessions, I can fit in a 5 minute workout while waiting for my boyfriend to pick me up. I bounce into his car, glowing suspiciously, and say: “Sorry, I was just hooping,” with the joyous, unrestrained pride of…well, a grade-schooler.
Where does hooping as exercise pan out?
The final verdict? Do it. I mean, as long as you can square off a wide berth in your home to practice. It’s, as Ainley so beautifully puts it, “an artistic fitness” that fortifies your body in a uniquely fun way.
Granted, it’ll be awhile before I’m totally toned, and way longer before I can do a multi-hoop routine like Big Top’s best. This is something that requires lots of practice, a lot of stretching, and TBH, I’m eyeing a lighter dance hoop for Christmas. Still, I’m just glad to finally find something that works for me.
And it’s why I’d doubly recommend trying an exercise that personally appeals to you. We live in a great fitness renaissance where there’s more than SoulCycle and yoga. No physical benefit can really top how happy I am when I hoop, and maybe it sounds crazy, but God, do I feel young.
BTW, hooping isn’t the only thing you can borrow from your childhood to get fit. But if you’re more of a traditionalist, here are some awesome yoga moves from Jessica Biel.
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