Benefits: "Great transverse (rotational) and frontal (side-to-side) plane movement, which are important for reducing injury," says Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. "(Hula hooping) develops static balance (a foundation for the more important dynamic balance), improves core/trunk conditioning and flexibility."
Plus, it requires "considerable abdominal or 'core' muscle activity, and promotes balance," adds H. James Phillips, P.T., P.h.D., of Seton Hall University's School of Graduate Medical Education. Hula hooping is also good for pelvic flexibility. The only problem is that it's not much of a cardio challenge unless you do it for a sustained period, says Mieke Scripps, an orthopedic physical therapist for the Miami City Ballet.
What You Need: A hula hoop
How You Play: Get the right size hoop, says Ron Klint, founder of Canyon Hoops. Klint says most hoops sold at stores such as Target or Kmart are kids' hoops. Unless you are very small or have the energy of a 6-year-old, you should avoid buying a kids' hoop. Adults need adult-size hoops that are larger in diameter and heavier. The measurement from the floor to the top of the hoop should be between 36 and 42 inches, or more for larger men and overweight individuals. Anything between 1 to 5 pounds is common for adult hoops, Klint says. You can get a lighter hoop to make your work a bit harder.
How to get started? First, give yourself plenty of room.
"Step into the circle and place the hoop firmly against your back with your hands on both sides," says Klint. "With your knees slightly bent, put one foot a bit in front of the other in a relaxed, comfortable position. Give the hoop a fast spin around your waist (the hoop should rotate over your bellybutton). Using a rocking motion, mostly back and forth, catch the hoop and 'bump' it in the front of your body then the back. Do not try to turn with the hoop in a circular motion. Get in the rhythm."
Having trouble keeping it going? "Try putting the opposite foot in front, and rotating the hoop in the opposite direction," says Klint. "Most right-handed people rotate the hoop from right to left, and left-handed people clockwise, left to right. Try it both ways and you will immediately see which is best for you." If you want to put more spice to your hoop workout, Klint recommends adding some music.
How Many Calories You Burn: Basic hula hooping burns about 5.2 calories per minute, or 158 calories for a half-hour. If you get fancy dancing and moving around, you could burn up to 7.6 calories per minute, or about 229 calories for a half-hour.