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: Clinical Lead / RGN

    £40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

    Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

    £21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference