The power of spin: Hula hoop your way to happiness

Hula hooping is this summer's fitness fad, promising not just to firm your abs but boost confidence, mood – and even sex drive. Harriet Walker discovers it's trickier than it looks

Beset by memories of poor childhood co-ordination and playground ignominy, I approached this year's latest fitness craze with a certain sense of gloom. But it is hard to stay gloomy when you're flinging a day-glo hoop around your waist and waggling your hips like Ricky Martin.

Hula hooping first rose to prominence in the Fifties as a cheap and faddy phenomenon that somehow took hold of an entire planet's imagination. From housewives hooping at Butlins to kids on the beach, even geishas in their kimonos, the hula hoop has proved its universality and its timelessness. Like the bicycle and the slanket, it feels like one of those inventions that has just always been around. It was immortalised in the 1994 Coen brothers' film, The Hudsucker Proxy, with the line: "The hula hoop! You know – for kids!"

Except it isn't anymore. Those Fifties housewives had the right idea: there's nothing like developing your core strength (that is, your abs and stomach muscles) for keeping you trim. And there's no better way to give them a rigorous going over than to stand and loop the loop with a hoop for half an hour. "The reason it's such a good tool for exercise is that core strength is key to your whole body," says Marawa Wamp, a circus-trained hooper whose help I have enlisted. She has performed across the globe with companies such as Le Clique and now runs classes geared specifically towards teaching hula as a means of fitness. She also has an app that will teach you how to get started, as well as a few simple exercises.

"You can work on your calf muscles and do lots of chin-ups and have strong arms, but if your core's not right then forget it," she says. "Then there's the theory that... it's breaking up fat cells every time it runs over you – so it's a two-in-one: tightening up the core and keeping that area nice and firm."

Wamp has been hooping for 10 years and has the fluid-but-strong posture of a ballet dancer. Her shoulders are straight, she stands tall and she exudes sinuous strength. I want to be like her, I decide. I will slay all those memories of having a hoop flutter to the ground past my skinny pre-teen knees and I will master the hula hoop.

My first move is to Google for tips, of course, and in doing so I discover a whole hooping community, not to mention oodles of testimonials from women who claim it has changed their lives. People hoop at home or in the park, some dressed as fairies (not something I'm willing to try) or simply in their pyjamas. One woman, Jen Moore, claims to have lost 143lbs – just over 10 stone – by using her hoop at home as she watched television; she's now a spindly spokeswoman for Hoopnotica, the company that helped her get fit. It all serves to confirm my exercise-starved and indolent sofa dream of becoming incredibly thin by not doing very much.

Hoopnotica is one of many companies that have sprung up to teach the ways of hula to those looking to make their fitness regime slightly more fun. With its instructional workout DVD comes an adult-sized hoop that breaks apart and reassembles for ease of storage. It is much bigger than I remember; I feel like a dwarfed Saturn standing in the centre of it. "Most people I talk to about hula hoops say 'oh, I used to be able to do it when I was a kid, but not any more'," Wamp says. "But of course you can! They haven't thought about the fact that when they were a child, they were probably half the height and a bit smaller – so you need a bigger hula hoop. You want one that comes up to your hip. For most people, they pick up one of these and pretty quickly they can do it." She pauses. "For some people it can take a little longer."

Before I meet with Wamp, I have a go with my hoop at home in front of the the Hoopnotica DVD, which is presented by several gazelle-like winding creatures who promise that hooping will not only give me great abs but will also boost my confidence, sex drive and feelings of positivity. Having silently scoffed at this, I realise after a few minutes of gyrating in the way they tell me that I do feel slightly more confident. That's just what pelvis-thrusting can do for you, I suppose.

After a few false starts, I manage to keep the hoop up for more than three spins. Then six, then 12, then suddenly it just keeps going. I try hooping to the left and to the right; the DVD teaches me how to turn round in the hoop and to keep it spinning and how to walk around the room with it still whirring away. I am not very good at the last one, but there's time. I am thrilled, confident and filled with a boost in my feelings of positivity.

Terribly excited, I explain to Wamp when we meet that I've been doing the video and following the instructions and that, yes, I am now a hooper too. I can hoop for most of Madonna's new album, I tell her, although I'm not sure I'll bother listening to it all the way through again. But still.

"It's very difficult to engage your core," she smiles, ready to appraise my technique. "I thought I was doing it for a couple of years, even when I was performing, before I realised I wasn't actually using those muscles at all."

Oh. I have been doing it wrong, it turns out. Lesson one of hula hoping: simply spinning the hoop on your waist is not good at all if you're rocking back and forth on your feet, even if you do it for days and weeks on end. You'll burn some calories, but you won't get those stomach muscles working. The technique that Wamp teaches me is rather different, standing with my feet parallel and shoulder-width apart, then flicking the hoop around my middle by pushing out with my stomach as it comes into contact with my belly button. It is much harder and I can't do it. After three revolutions (achieved only with the momentum of me hurling it around myself in the first place), it simply clatters down to the floor again. Oh well.

Hula hooping takes practice and patience, but once you've mastered it, it's a bit like riding a bike. It works best when you simply don't think about it at all, but just let your body get into a rhythm and rely on it to remember when to flick. I'm no pro, but the creaking of my abdomen the next morning is proof enough that just a few spins will awaken even the most neglected of cores.

After 26 years of searching and despairing, I think I've found my sport.

hoopnotica.com; marawatheamazing.com

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

    £21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: The JobAre you a trai...

    Year 3 Teacher Cornwall

    £23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...

    HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbridge Wells - £32,000

    £30000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbrid...

    Year 3 Teacher Plymouth

    £23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering