The hula hoop may be a classic children's toy, but it also provides a surprisingly good cardiovascular workout and can help strengthen and tone your core and help with agility training. Hula hoops crop up everywhere from Pilates classes to agility drills and stand-alone hooping classes, which often last anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. Although less common, you can also find hoop dancing classes, which are more dance oriented but still focus on many of the same core movements as regular hooping exercise classes.
Most exercise classes use large, weighted hoops instead of the relatively small, flimsy, plastic hoops you might remember from your childhood. Although it might seem counterintuitive, most exercisers find that these weighted hoops are actually easier to keep spinning than non-weighted hoops.
To get started, stand tall with the hoop around your body, one edge pressed against the small of your back and both arms nearly straight as you grasp either side of the hoop. Twist the hoop to one side -- keeping it in contact with your body -- then use your hands to spin the hoop in the other direction to get it started. Once you release the hoop, stand up tall and circle your hips slowly in the same direction as the hoop to keep it spinning.
A Good Cardio Workout
It may be tempting to dismiss hula hooping as child's play, but when you use the type of extra-large weighted hoop that's common in hooping fitness or hoop dance classes, it's a surprisingly good cardio workout. A study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise found that hooping burns an average of 420 calories per hour, putting it right up there with what you'd burn during during a step aerobics or cardio kickboxing class. The test subjects also averaged 84 percent of their maximum heart rate during the hooping workout, which classifies hooping as a "vigorous" intensity workout.
The type of hula hoop you'll find in group fitness classes weighs one to four pounds. Spinning a hoop won't take the place of a full strength-training workout, but it does strengthen and tone your core muscles. You can also use the hoop as weighted resistance for some Pilates-inspired core exercises. For example, lie face down, place the hoop carefully over your back and then place your hands face down beneath the rim of the hoop so your upper body forms a "Y." Keep your core tight as you flex your back, lifting your shoulders, head, arms and the hoop all a few inches off the floor. This works your core and, in particular, your erector spinae; work up to as many as 15 repetitions.
You can also lay your hula hoop on the ground and use it as a guide for agility training or low-grade plyometrics. For example, you can stand beside the hoop and then bound sideways in and out of the hoop with both feet in what are sometimes called ski jumps. You can also use hoops instead of cones for side-to-side cutting drills. In addition, you can train your ability to quickly accelerate in a new direction. Start by laying a couple of hoops out to mark a circle of roughly 10 feet in diameter. Then, run around the circle until your coach cues you to quickly change direction and dash toward a cone or another hoop placed up to 30 feet away.