The hula hoop is no longer just a middle school recreation activity. In the age of video-sharing apps, hula hoopers have gone viral on several occasions, with the hashtag #hulahooping garnering over 68 million views on TikTok alone. But while the hula hoop can be fascinating to watch, it’s also an effective workout. The hula hoop is a form of low-intensity, steady-state (LISS) cardio (yes, even if you’re technically standing still), and adding a weighted hula hoop can increase resistance, making your muscles work even harder for the duration of your workout.
If you’re bored with your daily gym routine, you might want to try the hula hoop. POPSUGAR asked hula hoop instructors and coaches to break down the benefits of hula hooping (including with a weighted hoop) and provide some tips for getting started.
Why is the Hula Hoop a good workout?
Sure, the hula hoop is fun, but if you haven’t done it since you were a kid, you might forget how difficult it can be. Here, the experts break down the benefits of this childhood pastime.
1. It builds core and lower body strength.
The move might seem simple enough, but every time you use a hula hoop, you’re targeting your core muscles, especially your obliques, Cassie Piasecki, a certified Pilates teacher and FightCamp group fitness instructor, tells POPSUGAR.
The practice of the hula hoop also strengthens the lower body. When you hula hoop, you stand with your legs wider than your hips, knees slightly bent, and then continuously move back and forth to keep the hula hoop moving. By maintaining that stability and rhythm, you engage your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, says Piasecki. In fact, this position is very similar to higher intensity workouts like kickboxing.
2. It burns calories and builds endurance.
If you’re looking to burn some extra calories, the hula hoop is a great place to start. In just half an hour of hula hooping, it’s possible to burn about 200 calories, according to John Gardner, NASM-certified personal trainer at Kickoff.
LISS workouts like the hula hoop also help build cardiovascular endurance. Unlike sprints, for example, the hula hoop lets you exercise longer with less recovery time, says Piasecki. “Turn on a killer playlist, work up to 30 minutes and you’ll sweat.”
3. It improves balance and coordination.
The hula hoop forces you to shift your weight back and forth with each circular motion, improving coordination and balance, says Piasecki. With weighted hoops in particular, you should notice improvement in these areas after continued use. Although a weighted hoop may not seem very heavy, at only a few pounds, it can easily throw you off balance as you work to keep the hoop on your hips. You can start with a lighter hoop to reduce your risk of injury (and bruising, which isn’t uncommon), then level up as you get stronger.
What are the benefits of weighted hoops and do they actually work?
You’re bound to benefit from the hula hoop as long as you practice regularly, but you may find that a weighted hula hoop is even more effective. “The added weight and resistance of a weighted hoop requires the core and legs to work harder to keep the hoop moving,” says Piasecki, which translates to a better total-body workout.
Interestingly, weighted hoops ultimately require less energy than lighter hoops, which Piasecki says is a good thing. “Once you have the strength to keep spinning, it’s easier to keep spinning for longer than regular hoops,” allowing you to practice for longer, she explains. “Save the traditional hula hoops for summer barbecues and get a weighted hoop for your home gym.”
How to Use a Weighted Hula Hoop
While you may have some muscle memory from the playground, you’ll want to read these tips from hula hoop instructors before incorporating a weighted hula hoop into your workout routine.
1. Take some basic precautions.
Although weighted hula hoops are popular for their main benefits, it is important to be aware of their potential downsides before adopting this practice. “Bruises are to be expected when you start hula hooping, but if a hula hoop is too heavy it can cause severe bruising and even injury to internal organs in some cases,” said Taira Stuck, hula hoop instructor and founder of Hooping Heals, says POPSUGAR. To avoid this, Stuck recommends using hoops that weigh no more than two pounds. If you have bruises, take a break for a few days to allow the spot to heal. Although initial bruising is almost inevitable, it will diminish as your muscles and tissues get stronger, Stuck says.
Once you’ve found the hoop that’s right for you, be sure to dress comfortably for your workout. “Avoid wearing ill-fitting or restrictive clothing, or anything that’s too slippery, like polyester or spandex, as it can cause the hoop to fall off your body,” says Stuck. For your comfort and safety, avoid shoes that don’t support you like sandals or flip flops and choose sneakers instead.
2. Always warm up.
Like any other workout, a good warm-up is essential when hula hooping. Bee Varga, hula-hoop instructor, recommends gently stretching your muscles before you even pick up your hula hoop. Once you get started, be careful not to push yourself too hard in the first few minutes. Your hula hoop can fall or slide all over the place, and that’s okay, she says — just relax in it.
3. Find your form.
The hoop is very intuitive, but good form is still key to getting a good workout and preventing injury. Start by testing out this basic positioning: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with one foot slightly forward if that’s right for your body, Stuck says. With a slight bend in your knees and a strong core, align the hoop with your lower back and push toward your belly button, she explains. The movement of your hips should be back and forth, not circular. If the hoop starts to fall, speed up, be patient and eventually it will click.
If you feel comfortable keeping your hoop moving and want to take it up a notch, try changing your stance, direction, or speed to add variety to your workout, Stuck says. She recommends putting your feet together and stabilizing your core for an extra burn.
4. Stick to it.
Treat the hula hoop like you would any other exercise. Set aside time each week to commit to a program. Find an instructor or friend to hold you accountable. And if you feel frustrated or overwhelmed, stop and try something else, Stuck says. Most important: don’t give up.
Varga recommends using your hula hoop for about 15 minutes a day to start. Once this feels easy, you can slowly increase to 45 minutes, incorporating the hoop wherever you would normally do cardio as part of your routine. Although fitness is primarily what draws people to the hula hoop, Stuck says that’s just the tip of the iceberg. “Sometimes we just need a dance party in the garden. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed and anxious and just need a productive way to get through difficult emotions,” she says. “The hoop is a complete reset.”