Hula Hooping for Health: It’s Far More Than a Child’s Toy

Use a hula hoop during your next exercise session for a low-impact workout to aid in weight loss, increase muscle tone, improve flexibility, and enhance balance. Exercise is essential in the management of diabetes, and the hula hoop may be the workout variation you need to motivate your fitness program.

Hooping is considered aerobic exercise. Your time spent hooping will increase your heart and breathing rates, elevate your body temperature to bring out the sweat, burn calories, and, as with other types of aerobic exercise, improve your body’s ability to absorb glucose.

The hoop is also used for strength training exercises. You will tone the muscles in your stomach, legs, and arms during hooping. The more muscle tissue you develop, the higher your resting metabolism will be, which also aids in weight maintenance.

Spending workout time with the hula hoop is also a stress-relieving exercise. The rhythmic circular motion around your body is meditative in nature, so you may find hooping a relaxing experience.

Hula hoops for workout purposes are weighted with sand or water to add resistance. Weighted hula hoops are larger than your typical child’s hula hoop. The larger size makes the rotation slower, which makes it easier to hoop.

Aerobic Benefits

Your heart rate will rise when you participate in hooping exercise. In January of 2011, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) determined that the average heart rate of a hooping participant was approximately 151 beats per minute, which qualifies hooping as aerobic exercise. The ACE estimates that 210 calories are burned during a 30-minute hooping workout, comparable to calories burned in a boot camp or kickboxing group exercise class.

Make Your Own Hula Hoop

Poly irrigation tubing from a builder’s supply store makes the perfect hula hoop material. Purchase ¾-inch tubing, which is usually available in 100-foot rolls. You will have enough material to make hula hoops for your friends and family if you wish, or you can make hoops of varying sizes. You will also need ¾-inch inserted connectors to attach the hoop together. A PVC ratcheting cutting tool makes for a clean cut without hard work for your hands.

One of the benefits of making your own hula hoop is the ability to size your hoop to your height. Children’s hula hoops at the store are often too small, which may prevent you from enjoying your workout.  Most adult hula hoops are between 11 and 13 inches, but you can measure your tubing to reach the height of your navel.

After you cut the tubing, you need to heat the end to insert the connector. Place the end in hot water or put direct heat on it with a hair dryer for a few minutes. You will know whether or not it is warm by how easily the connector slides into the end. Insert the connector into one end of your hoop.

Now add resistance in the form of sand or water. Water may leak, but provides a smoother rotation, so use your personal preference. Insert the sand or water into the tubing until it weighs around one pound. Your hoop should be easily lifted.

Complete the hoop by heating the opposite end and pushing the connector into it. If you want to decorate your hoop, add colored electrical tape in a swirling design all around the hoop or purchase specialty tapes for additional sparkle.

The Exercises

Torso Twist

Use your hula hoop to warm up your body and prepare for the exercise session. Place your hands inside the hoop with your palms facing out and extend your arms overhead with the hoop parallel to the floor. Stand up straight with your feet positioned slightly wider than your shoulders. Gently turn your upper body to the right as you bring your left hand toward the front of your body. Then gently turn to the left and bring your right arm toward the front of your body. Twist for one minute to warm your arms and torso.

Arm Circles

Strengthen your arms when you rotate the hula hoop with your arms over your head. Stand up straight with your feet slightly wider than hip-distance apart. Raise both arms over your head. Clap your hands together, and hold onto the hula hoop in the space between your thumbs and fingers. Use a small circular motion in your arms to rotate the hoop around your hands. Aim to twirl the hoop overhead for one minute in both hands. Perform the overhead circle one hand at a time, as if you were swinging a lasso. Aim to twirl the hoop for 30 seconds in each hand.

Single Arm Circles

Exercise each arm independently to increase the strength-training benefits of the hula hoop. For a side arm circle, stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Extend your right arm straight out to the side at the height of your shoulder. Place the hoop over your arm between your elbow and your wrist, or keep the hoop between your thumb and fingers. Perform small circles forward to rotate the hoop for 30 seconds and then circle your arm backward for 30 seconds. Perform the same duration of circles forward and backward using your left arm.

For a variation, extend your right arm to the front of your body at the height of your shoulder. Aim to keep the hoop between your thumb and fingers. Roll the hoop in clockwise circles for 30 seconds and then counter-clockwise for 30 seconds. Perform the same duration of circles using your left arm.

Figure 8

Hold onto the hoop in your right hand with the hoop against the outside of your right leg. Swing the hoop in a sideways figure 8 or infinity symbol. Lift the hoop out and up to the right, cross the hoop down toward the front of your left hip, lift the hoop out and up to your left, and return to start. Perform one minute on each side.

Hula Hooping Basics

Successful hula hooping takes practice. If you are new to hooping, stand in the middle of the hoop with your right foot in front of your left. Hold the hoop against your back with your hands on the sides of the hoop. Rotate the hoop to the right as if to wind it up, and then push it to the left as you release your hands from the hoop. Move your hips front to back quickly to keep the hoop spinning around your waist. If the spinning direction of the hoop does not feel comfortable, change your foot position and spin the hoop in the opposite direction. Keep the hoop spinning as long as possible. If it falls, simply begin again.

As your hooping improves, add a squat by standing with your feet underneath your hips and then bending and straightening your legs. This squat strengthens your lower body.  Further strengthen your lower body with a lunge by standing with your right foot three feet in front of your left and then bending and straightening your knees to lower and raise your body. Switch feet and perform an equal number of lunges with your left leg in front.


Movement is added to hooping by walking a few steps forward or backward. You can also walk in a circle in the same direction that your hoop is spinning. This is challenging but, with practice, adds variety to your hooping workout.

Lisa has been a fitness professional for over two decades. She tries to continually challenge her own workout, and hooping is now on her list of favorite exercises. For questions or comments, please contact her at [email protected]

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