When it comes to picking a go-to workout, we all know we're not going to stick with something we hate to do. Whether it's yoga, or dance class or running, many of us have given up on what we once swore was going to be the fix for our "But I don't want to exercise" woes. Earlier this year, an American Cancer Society survey crunched numbers for this phenomenon and found that 40 percent of women would exercise more if it felt less like a chore.
Depending on your personality and your workout goals, there are lots of different ways to inject some fun into fitness. One workout program that hopes to do just that is Hoopnotica, a low-impact, high-cardio hooping routine that claims to be "the most fun you'll ever have getting healthy and fit."
After hearing from Jen Moore, who lost 140 pounds hooping and went on to teach Hoopnotica classes herself, we were intrigued. But when her husband, Keith, told us he too had lost weight hooping -- 100 pounds, to be exact -- we knew we had to see this one for ourselves.
Last week, a group of Healthy Living editors (and a few lucky friends) made our way to Pearl Studios in Manhattan for a 60-minute class with Hoopnotica Master Trainer Jacqui Becker.
You might not think the child's toy could provide much of a workout, but an independent study of hooping from researchers at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found hooping burns seven calories a minute, for a total of 420 calories an hour. And that's before taking into account the dance moves or strength-training exercises incorporated into various Hoopnotica routines, like HoopnoticaFit or Hoopnotica HoopDance.
Plus, it's a bit of a mental workout, too: Jacqui compared some of the movements to the pat-your-head-rub-your-stomach phenomenon and told us to cut ourselves some slack when we didn't pick up the steps instantly. Pointing our toes, moving our legs across our bodies and raising our arms, all while twirling a hoop around our waists took real concentration and activated parts of the brain that running in a straight line would leave dormant.
Full disclosure: There was a brief period of time when I couldn't hula hoop enough. It's essentially the only thing I remember doing at summer camp from age 8 to about 11. I think it's safe to say I was the most excited out of all of us here at Healthy Living to give Hoopnotica a try.
We walked into the studio full of anticipation. Jacqui had told us what to wear but not much else. From an earlier demonstration where Jacqui had given me a hoop to keep, I knew she was going to make us perform moves like lunges and squats, mid-rotation. And no matter how much I loved to hoop circa 1993, I just couldn't figure out how that was going to translate.
But picking up the Hoopnotica hoop was, as they say, just like riding a bike. I was able to keep the hoop steadily swishing around my waist, as Jacqui led us through a series of basic instructions, including a neutral stance with one leg in front of the other and a side stance with both legs spread wide out to the side.
After going once through without the hoop, we then progressed to a series of lunges, squats and plies while hooping -- and the thing stayed up! I looked nothing, nothing like Jacqui, whose lithe dancer body flowed through and around the hoop like water, but I did get a little fancy, crossing heel and toe taps in front of my body as she instructed.
At the end of class, I wasn't full-body tired like I would be after a long run (which is generally my measure of a good workout, however misguided that may be), but I certainly broke a sweat, my core muscles were tired and I realized we had had our arms lifted for around 45 minutes! Triceps, here I come! Plus, the next morning, my abs were indeed a little sore.
It's easy to see why people would get hooked on hooping. I saw more smiles in that studio than I've ever seen in an exercise class.
Hearing a hula-hoop hit the floor can sound like a big failure. Especially in a room full of successful whirling hula hoopers, having yours fall to the ground is no fun.
This was my first time hooping, so I figured the whole class was going to be like that, me picking my hoop off the floor only for it to fall minutes later. I'll admit, the first part was a little like that. I had this habit of holding onto the hoop with my hands instead of letting go and moving my hips. After Jacqui's encouragement to keep my hands out of the equation, I started to keep it up for lengths of time I never thought possible.
Continuous hooping is exhilarating. You feel like a fourth grader and a marathoner all at once. Jacqui demonstrated that you could stand in a forward stance with one foot in front of the other. She showed us how to pivot our hips and repeat the motion. The faster I went, the more fun I had.
When I heard a coworker ask, "What do you suggest we do if we feel our hoop dropping?" I felt even better. I wasn't the only one who feared hoop failure. Jacqui answered "MOVE!" She's right. All you have to do is keep moving with your uninhibited hips. Not your nervous hands!
Going into the class, I had reservations about whether I would be able to keep up. I don't pride myself on being a pro-hula hooper -- I can keep a hoop on my hips for a few spins before it falls, and the last time I'd really hula-ed was in elementary school. But the thing I probably appreciated most from the class is that it was EXTREMELY accessible. The instructor gave steps from the very beginning about the right stance to take, the right "hip actions" to make and the best way to keep the hula hoop up on the body instead of down by the feet. With her steps, I became a lot less self-conscious and hooping became more second nature.
I also really liked that the class provided a full-body workout. One would think that hula hooping works out the abs, but it surprisingly also works out the thighs -- we had to do squats and lunges WHILE hooping! -- and the arms, because you have to keep them kind of raised up throughout the whole class so that they don't get in the way of the hoop. And while it may not seem like it would do that much for cardio, since you're kind of just standing in the same place for about an hour, it really gets the heart rate up because your body is continuously swaying. I was surprised by how much of a sweat I was working up by the time 7:30 p.m. rolled around.
Lastly, I appreciated that the class isn't just for people who are extreme fitness buffs. I'm on a volleyball team and try to make it a point to include some sort of physical activity in my daily routine, even if it's just an extra walk around the block, but I'll be the first to admit that I could be better in terms of physical fitness. And this kind of exercise is the perfect gateway, I think, to doing that. It starts out slow, and just builds, so before you know it, you're doing more physically intensive moves and really getting your muscles working. It made me feel like I could do it, and that I am capable. And that encouragement is huge for starting, and sticking to, a workout.
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine being able to keep a hula hoop afloat around my midsection for more than a full rotation or two. Pre-class, I had little doubt that I would be the gal in the corner of the room, bent hoop in hand, weakly smiling, while my classmates hooped their hearts out.
I had little faith.
If, like me, you're not a believer of your inner hoopty-hoop goddess, I urge you to try a class. With the instructor's guidance, I was able to keep my hoop going round for longer than I ever expected. While I certainly was not the swiftest hooper in the room, I did maintain an acceptable orbit. Jacqui taught us a series of stances, and the forward stance was the most sustainable for me. When I changed it up, a hoop-to-floor rattle was guaranteed, but I was really hooping.
Besides the joy (trust me, it's fun), there's the benefit of the workout. Indeed, it's a good one. The class was challenging; I think we all alternated out-of-breath-pants with indulgent giggles. Admittedly, I felt a bit silly madly undulating with my arms up like a tyrannosaurus rex, but once I got into the hoopy groove, I genuinely enjoyed myself. On the workout front, I won't lie: My abs ached that I-know-I-really-worked-it ache for two days after. My arms were sore. And my butt hurt. I was stunned that the simple hula hoop was able to affect so many areas of my body, and with that, I'd definitely dabble in a Hoopnotica class again.
Check out these photos from our class:
Want to try Hoopnotica on your own? Grab a weighted hoop (about two pounds, so heavier than the flimsy one you might grab at the dollar store) and watch this short video filmed just for HuffPost readers to learn a few of the basics.
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