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

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

    £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

    Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

    £26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Day In a Page

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

    Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

    Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
    HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

    Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
    Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

    'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

    Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
    Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

    The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

    Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen
    RuPaul interview: The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head

    RuPaul interview

    The drag star on being inspired by Bowie, never fitting in, and saying the first thing that comes into your head
    Secrets of comedy couples: What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?

    Secrets of comedy couples

    What's it like when both you and your partner are stand-ups?
    Satya Nadella: As Windows 10 is launched can he return Microsoft to its former glory?

    Satya Nadella: The man to clean up for Windows?

    While Microsoft's founders spend their billions, the once-invincible tech company's new boss is trying to save it
    The best swimwear for men: From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer

    The best swimwear for men

    From trunks to shorts, make a splash this summer
    Mark Hix recipes: Our chef tries his hand at a spot of summer foraging

    Mark Hix goes summer foraging

     A dinner party doesn't have to mean a trip to the supermarket
    Ashes 2015: With an audacious flourish, home hero Ian Bell ends all debate

    With an audacious flourish, the home hero ends all debate

    Ian Bell advances to Trent Bridge next week almost as undroppable as Alastair Cook and Joe Root, a cornerstone of England's new thinking, says Kevin Garside
    Aaron Ramsey interview: Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season

    Aaron Ramsey interview

    Wales midfielder determined to be centre of attention for Arsenal this season
    Community Shield: Arsene Wenger needs to strike first blow in rivalry with Jose Mourinho

    Community Shield gives Wenger chance to strike first blow in rivalry with Mourinho

    As long as the Arsenal manager's run of games without a win over his Chelsea counterpart continues it will continue to dominate the narrative around the two men
    The unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth - and what it says about English life

    Unlikely rise of AFC Bournemouth

    Bournemouth’s elevation to football’s top tier is one of the most improbable of recent times. But it’s illustrative of deeper and wider changes in English life
    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms