Is Hula Hooping a Great Workout?

Hula hooping? Yes, hula hooping. While it may sound like yet another exercise fad, people have used the hula hoop for exercise almost as long as humans have been exercising. The earliest hoops were made almost 2,500 years ago for religious dances, and medical texts from 1,300′s England describe the hoop’s use for back problems. When British sailors reached the Sandwich Islands, now the Hawaiian islands, they noticed that the hip motion in hula dances was a lot like those used with hoop dancing, and the ring became known as the hula hoop.

150 years later, the founders of Wham-O saw an Australian bamboo “exercise” hoop and decided to produce a plastic version. They trademarked the Hula Hoop name, and through some creative promotions caused a fad during the latter half of 1958.

So, what’s this have to do with exercise? Like skateboards, the hula hoop had a core fan base that continued to develop techniques and equipment long after the fad had passed. As Wham-O owned the Hula Hoop name, enthusiasts called their new sport “hooping.” The hoops got bigger and heavier, allowing slower rotation and better control. Hoop based dances have become a popular performance art, featured prominently in Cirque du Soleil. With aerobics shifting more toward dance-based activities, it was only a matter of time for hooping to catch on as an exercise routine.

What is a Hooping Workout?

The hoop used is larger in diameter than a child’s hula hoop and weighs more — anywhere from one to four pounds. While most experts would recommend a hoop tall enough that it reaches between your waist and chest, there isn’t a hard-and-fast rule for size and weight: Larger and heavier hoops are harder to move around, but are also much easier to keep spinning. Most new hoopers have to play around with different designs to find one that matches their strength and skills.

All routines begin with five to ten minutes of what most people think of as hula hooping: rolling the hoop on the hips. From there, hoopers move the hoop around their body, going between their neck, wrists, and ankles. Beginner workouts concentrate on basic exercises, but most routines are set to music, forcing the hooper to move the hoop along with the beat. While most routines emphasize core strength, hooping can be a full-body workout.

Does it Work?

The American Council on Exercise wanted to find out, so they sponsored a study by the Exercise and Health Program at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse.[1] They had sixteen female intermediate to experienced hoopers between the ages of 16 and 59 perform “Hooked on Hooping,” a popular and typical exercise routine. This routine has a five-minute warm up followed by seven song routines for a total of thirty-five minutes of exercise.

Once the participants had become comfortable with the workout routine, they performed it while wearing a heart rate monitor and oxygen analyzer. During the exercise, the volunteers were asked to periodically report how they felt using the Borg Scale of Perceived Exertion, a rating from 0-10 of how hard they felt they were exercising.

The Result;

  • An average 151bpm heart rate, which is about 84% Heart rate max across the study group
  • An average Borg Scale rating of “somewhat hard” (5-6)
  • A VO2 average of 20.6 ml/kg per minute

What does this mean? Hooping has one of the highest exertion levels of free-range exercises. The participants burned an average of seven calories per minute, and their exertion level was about the same as boot camp routines. Long-term studies are needed, but this preliminary result is very promising, putting the activity firmly within the ACE’s guidelines for weight management exercise.