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

News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
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

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence