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Is Hooping Really a Workout? We Tried It to Find Out!

By , SparkPeople Blogger
More and more people these days are turning to workouts that feel less like work and more like play. Dodge ball leagues for adults are increasingly popular, and out-of-the-box exercise classes like aerial yoga, circus arts and trampolining (rebounding) are almost as commonplace as kickboxing.  Another fun pursuit on the list of fun fitness trends is hooping—as in hula hooping—which you probably used to do as a kid.

SparkPeople alone has almost 600 hoopers in one SparkTeam, and the website hooping.org has nearly 8,000 registered members. Celebrities rave about the benefits of hooping workouts, and actress Marissa Tomei even released a series of hooping workout DVDs through Gaiam in 2010.

With the popularity of hooping on the rise, we've received a lot of questions about how many calories it burns and whether hooping can actually take the place of more traditional workouts. There has been very little scientific research on this subject, but I always find that it's best to answer these questions not just with the research available, but also personal experience.

So I gathered several of my SparkPeople co-workers to investigate hooping firsthand. We took a class at Shine Yoga Center in Cincinnati, led by hooping instructor Leslie Kreines, and were joined by SparkPeople's most famous hooper, member Shelli (MOSTMOM1), who regularly blogs about her hooping adventures.

What did we discover?

This was the first hooping experience for most of us (since childhood at least), but to get a sense of the various things we learned and practiced in class, check out this short video we captured:

While every hooping class or video is probably structured very differently, ours started with a basic warm-up using the hoop, moved into technical instruction and skill practice (which, let's face it, we desperately needed), included a short "cardio" section in which we walked, jogged and lunged while hooping across and around the room, moved into some arm hooping skills, and finished with a nice cool-down and stretch segment. The room was warm (and very full), so we all worked up a sweat. While everyone who tries hooping may feel it differently, we all agreed on one thing: We all had a TOTAL BLAST. It was so much fun that we couldn't wait to try hooping again! Here are a few of our reactions to the hooping class:

"The hula hoop is something that I have always enjoyed doing at home with my kids.  There is sure to be giggling involved and it seems to be a good activity that we all have fun doing together.  I was excited to participate in my first hooping class.  I was pleasantly surprised that my body was actually sweating at certain times through the class.  I wasn't sore the next day but I can see where someone who didn't use the hula hoop often could be after an hour of that motion.  I also think that if you attended the classes consistently and were able to improve along the way (and giggle slightly less through the class) that it could push you harder to improve on things like lunging while hooping and RUNNING while hooping.  Those are certainly challenges to master if I have the chance! I think that like most things, you can get out of it what you put in to it! Either way, it was a great way to spend an hour with co-workers/friends.  I loved it!" – Kelly, SparkPeople Office Manager
"I was pleasantly surprised at how much of a workout hooping was. I knew it was going to be challenging to actually keep the hoop up, but I didn’t realize that it would actually get my heart rate up. Obviously it's not as intense as running or other high intensity cardio is, but I still worked up a mild sweat. I could really feel my entire core (abs and back) getting a solid workout. I would definitely go hooping again!" – Sarah, SparkPeople Marketing

"This was my first time hooping and I had a blast! Hooping challenged my balance, coordination, and endurance, all while making me feel like a kid running wild on a playground. Although I wouldn’t say it got my heart rate up as high as traditional forms of cardio, I think it would be a great activity for a light workout or active rest day." – Melinda, SparkPeople Editorial Assistant

"Hooping was very fun—as expected!  I have never been able to hula hoop well, but by the end of my first class, I really got the hang of it and was working up a sweat.  I was surprised by the variety of moves and exercises.  As a beginner, I would not consider this a strenuous exercise, but as hooping skill increases, I suspect that the rigor of the workout increases.  This was a really fun fitness class and a great way to mix up your regular routine." –Rachel, SparkPeople Accounting
Is hooping really a workout? How many calories does it burn?
Research conducted by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) found that hooping is in fact a cardiovascular (aerobic) workout. Their very small study look at women of various ages who were "intermediate to advanced" hoopers.  When these subjects followed a 30-minute hooping video that included seven different hooping "dances," their heart rates elevated significantly—near 85% MHR, which is high-intensity aerobic exercise for sure. The study found that the hoopers burned about 210 calories in 30 minutes (so roughly 420 calories per hour), which is comparable to traditional fitness classes like step aerobics or cardio kickboxing.

Our class experience didn't line up with this particular study, but we all felt our heart rates rise significantly during the short cardio portion of the class (which involved running, lunging and brisk walking across the room while hooping). Keep in mind that it was our first class and we had pretty elementary skills that limited the types of hooping drills we could do. On average for the class, my heart rate elevated to the same level as a leisurely or brisk walk (approximately 55-60% MHR), but nowhere near the intensity found in the ACE study.  Our other testers had a similar experience and agreed: it was fun, it was active, and yes, it got our heart rates up and our sweat glands going, but not the same way our traditional workouts do. However, for someone just starting out in fitness or accustomed to lower intensity aerobics, I'm sure that hooping can be a great workout.

Like many activities, you'll get out of hooping what you put into it. Hooping can be aerobic, but it's not going to be aerobic for everyone at every skill level and in every class format. If your skills don't allow you to run around or lunge or jump while hooping (our instructor once jogged the final 3 miles of a triathlon while hooping continuously!), the chances of swiveling your hips enough to count as a cardio session are probably pretty slim—at least in the beginning. That's because the motion involved in hooping doesn't use a lot of the largest muscle groups of the lower body in a large enough range of motion to cause your heart rate to increase significantly.

That said, hooping isn't a waste of time. All physical activity burns calories and benefits your body, even if it's low-intensity.  And the more we can get on our feet and get active in fun ways like hooping, the more likely we are to be at a healthy weight and the longer we're likely to live. Kreines, our instructor for the day, says that hooping is, "a fun, creative way to work off the pounds." In addition to engaging your core and elevating your heart rate, she says that hooping can help tone your arms, legs and abs and even increase a person's creative energy, improve circulation, and boost energy.  
"The wonderful thing about hooping," says Kreines, "is it can be mastered by people of all ages and bring laughter and fun to working out." We agree.
How can you get started with hooping?
Kreines suggests that searching online (and even on Facebook) is the best way to find other hoopers and hooping classes near you. There are multiple different certifications in hooping available, but not all instructors are certified—many are simply skilled and experienced in the art of hooping. Just make sure you ask about the credentials and background of the instructor you follow to ensure that he or she is knowledgeable in alignment, body awareness and overall safety when leading a class. Kreines also recommends the many free videos available on YouTube, which include some amazing instructional tutorials from basic hooping to advanced tricks. Her favorite channels? Caroleeena and Safire. And of course, you'll need a hoop! You can buy them from a host of online retailers, local companies and local hoopers (through Internet or Facebook search), or even make your own hoop from inexpensive hardware/craft store materials again, with the help of many free online tutorials.
We loved hooping class and 100% of us who tried it want to do it again…and again. It might be on a light or recovery "workout" day for the fittest individuals, but that doesn’t mean we're going to knock it. Hooping takes skill, coordination, balance, endurance—and a good sense of humor. I highly recommend it as one more way to add a little activity to your day—or an excellent (and fun) way to change up your routine and set some fresh fitness goals.  
Special thanks to Shine Yoga studio in Cincinnati and our hooping instructor Leslie Kreines for the free hour-long class. We can't wait to come back!
Hoopers left to right: Rachel, Nicole, Kelly, Sarah, Melinda & Shelli (MOSTMOM1).

Do you think hooping is (or looks like) a good workout? Tell us your experience if you've tried it, or whether you'd ever take a hooping class for a spin.

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TWINZ_LOCZ 1/13/2018
I use my wii fit for this exercise love it! Report
SUNSET09 10/23/2017
It's a nice workout to tri you waist and helps with coordination. Oh, yeah! Report
DJ4HEALTH 8/4/2017
Still trying to learn it again. Did it as a child but have not done it since. Report
I had met Shelli (MOSTMOM) quite awhile on sparks (not in person though I WISH !!) And she's such a GREAT PERSON !! CERTAINLY WORTH THE WHILE to search on Sparks "MostMom hula hoop" which is how I came across this. I was looking for a new member (on the Spirited Under Dog team a part of the 5% Challenge which is where I heard of Shelli ) so she could have FUN with exercise !! GLAD I found this,, now to HOP (OR HOOP HA ON OVAH !) to Shelli's page and check UP on things ! Report
REEDSKI 6/13/2017
This artcle is from 2012. I hadn't even heard about hooping until recently. Report
-SHOREIDO- 4/20/2017
Great article!! Thank You!! Yes I'm a Hula fan and would love to become a "hooper"(Kudo's to Shell" She "SPARKED" my interest. Recently just finally purchased my first ever Hula Hoop and now I'm on my way thanks to all of you to become a member. Ginny. -shoreido- Report
My first experience with hooping since I was a child was at a gym that had weighted hoops. It was amazing how much you could feel it working. There was no class or routine involved. The fact that it was weighted seemed to make it easier to keep up.

More recently, I tried a hoop class. It was challenging and fun. It did get my heart rate up, but I don't feel it got it as high as some other classes I take and teach. However, anything to keep it different is my motto. So I give hooping a thumbs up!
I've been teaching & enjoying group fitness 30+ years. I've been certified in (and let go of) many different formats that stopped loving me back. Kickbox, Spin & BootCamp are phenominal, high-intensity classes... but they no longer suited my joints or changing lifestyle. Hooping came along in 2007 and I've never looked back. I became Hoopnotica-Certified in 2008 and consider it one of the best long-term investments I've ever made. Hooping can be endurance fitness; easy-flow meditation; or all-level 'Recess Bell' fun. Hooping... Get It On! Report
Shelli and Audrey showed y'all up :^)

My friend has a weighted hoop and I tried it at her house once - i can see how it would be a good workout! And Shelli (MOSTMOM) certainly makes it look fun. I'm not aware of any opportunities for classes in my immediate area, though. Report
I love hooping!! I've increased the workout by walking while hooping, stepping side to side while hooping, jumping while hooping - all of which increases the intensity of the workout. hooping while taking the hoop off over your head and putting it back onto your waist as well as stepping in and out of the hoop (open door) is another cool move. I hadn't been hooping for a while and just pulled out my hoop so I could do a 10 minute break in the parking lot at work hooping!! Thanks for the motivation. Report
I was a pro hooper when I was a kid. They couldn't pay me to try it at the church picnic last year! I'd really like to get into it again. It was fun then and I'm sure it would be fun now...and it would be a great way to get in some more exercise. I think I'm gonna start shopping for a hoop...
The class looked like a lot of fun! Although even as a child I was an awful hooper. Report
I think it's really important to incorporate more FUN into our lives - and this looks like a great way to do so, as well as adding motion. It's also not as hard on knee and hip joints as jogging or running, so makes a good alternative for those of us worried about wearing out our joints. :D Report
I thought it was fun when I tried it but the 3lb hoop left a painful bruise on my hip bone! Report
I have a 3lb. hula hoop and when I use it I sweat I really like it everyone should try it. Report
I'm a new Hoopnotica certified hooping instructor in the metro Detroit area. I LOVE to hoop! Just starting classes at the Wayne Community Center, and a couple other places. Contact me through my sparkpage if you're in my area and interested. I started Sparkpeople last June, and hooping last July, so far I've lost almost 40lbs, so I'm proof they both WORK!
I think that hooping is definitely a workout. Way to go MOSTMOM1! (When I looked quickly I thought that was you Shelli! WTG! :) Report
oh and weighted. You don't need 3, 4, 5 lbs added weight! The hoops are large and with tape, etc there is probably enough weight. Its the toy store hoops that do not lend themselves to adult hoopdancing Report
Hooping for fitness and fun is fabulous! Hmm that was a lot of F's in there LOL I teach classes in Olympia and Bremerton WA and even my students who couldn't hoop as a kid, or who have never hooped, have never left their first class without being able to at least waist hoop! Once you know the how and you have the proper hoop, mastering the basics comes naturally! Once you have some basics down you can add in so many other fitness elements to really work your whole body. even if you just dance around you will get a good aerobic workout. Definitely check out www.hoopnotica.com where you can search for teachers in your area or even check out the hoopnotica facebook page :) Happy Hooping! Report
I teach here in beautiful Stratford, Ontario and can guarantee this is an amazing workout! Ive lost 30 pounds and know many people whittling away at lean fit bodies using the hoop. I also believe it is a transformative process, a moving meditation that heals. I collect articles on its healing properties over at www.hooptoheal.net . It is low impact but SUPER FUN and very addicting. Try it..it isn't 1950s hulahooping, hoop dance is beyond wonderful! Report
Yes! Hooping is a great workout! I started taking classes and became an instructor! I now teach my own classes. It doesn't even feel like exercise to me, just plain fun.
It looked like so much fun. I would love to try it but can't even get the hula hoop to go around even just standing. Sure would help with improvement in balance.
Great video! It looks like you all had so much fun. I'd love to find a class, and the time, to give it a go.
Thanks for sharing!
C~ Report
I've got a great weighted hula hoop that I bought a few years ago - I need to dust it off and get it hooping :) Report
I giggled when I was a kid doing it so it would be fun to try once again! Count me in. Report
As a kid I could not keep that hoop going for than 2 to 3 turns so I doubt at 65 I would do any better, but it does look like fun. Report
I think hooping is a wonderful and FUN exercise! Personally, I burn a lot of calories and work up a pretty good sweat when I hoop. I think if you can learn to hoop dance (see hoopnotica's youtube videos), you can get a pretty good full body workout and get your heart rate up pretty high. I think hooping is great for those who are beginning an exercise routine. It's fun and easy to do. You can hoop and watch tv! Lol. I take my hoop with me everywhere and hoop in my spare time and try to learn new moves/tricks. I was so happy to see this blog and watch the video! What a blast you guys must've had! LOVE IT! Report
Looks like a lot of fun! Report
I hula hooped lots as a child and later I remember concern about back injuries (slipped discs etc.). Would like to do it again at 66 but want to rule out danger of injuries! Any information on this? Report
"Fun and creative" sound like words that would get a person active. Good for the brain and the body! Report
I've been hooping for years and I love it! Report
I have a weighted hula hoop and smaller weighted arm hoops that I got from Amazing fitness hoops. I will do them while watching tv. It is fun. Report
SOunds and looks like fun!! Report
Has anyone tried a weighted hoop? Report
I think hooping is a very worthy workout, as a workout should include more than just having a nice sweat. To me, fitness contains strength, endurance, quickness, balance, flexibility, coordination and a good capacity of reaction, all of which should be trained regularly.
I think many of these components of fitness are all too often neglected by traditional workouts, whereas hooping totally shoots them -- not to forget the fun-part! Report
I just ordered a hoop. Can't wait until it gets here. I have reached a plateau and hope this will kick it up enough to get me losing again.
You have made it look like a BLAST! I'm going to see if I can find a class or group or something, so I can try it too.
That was really cute!!! Looks like a lot of fun! Think I may have to get me and the kids some hoops to do some "backyard" hooping!!! :) Report
I did hooping when I was a kid. Last week, I picked up a hoola hoop at Curves and tried it for the first time in over 30 years. It was fun. Just trying to keep the hoop up was hilarious. My granddaughter was cheering me on! I am going to buy
a hoop. Even if I don't lose any weight doing it,I had fun trying. Report
Awesome Blog. I tried it when growing up and could not get the hang of it. It looks a lot of fun and I may try it again. Have loads of fun everyone. God Bless You and Have a Wonderful Week. Report
"That's because the motion involved in hooping doesn't use a lot of the largest muscle groups of the lower body in a large enough range of motion to cause your heart rate to increase significantly."
I cry false. Have you ever done a hard strength workout one day squats and tried to waist hoop the next? I did. I couldn't hoop that day due to leg pain because evidently you DO use those muscles. Also, I've taught hoop classes where people have said they can feel it in their legs. It all depends on your body and muscles.

Thanks to hooping, I workout even when I am not on a diet. I love moving now. I'm dancing through life now thanks to hooping. After a hard core session, I am dripping in sweat. Sometimes I have to take rest breaks because my heart is racing that hard. Report
My kids (now adults) were champion hula hoopers in elementary school. I don't know where they get their talent...as a kid I tried, tried, tried, and NEVER got the hang of it! Report
I think this is great. A hula hoop isn't expensive and you don't need a lot of room. Report
I like hooping, when I see my grandkids, I play with their hula hoop. I should buy me one. Report
I love Hula Hooping. After reading this article I got off my couch, put on my arm band and hula hooped for 15 minutes. My heart rate went up right away, I was doing 10 cal per min. Total in 15 minutes I burned 149 cal. I put on energetic music to help me keep going. You do engage abs and leg muscles in this fun exercise. Report
Think i might just have to give hooping a try. Maybe my 10 yr old can give me some pointers, she is an "expert" hooper :) Report
It looks like a ton of fun!! Thanks for showing us!! Report
I took one class and it KICKED MY BUTT!!! Report
I go to a hula hoop and jump rope class every week and love it. I never thought I would get such a great workout from hula hooping. There are so many dimensions to the "sport" once you had lunges, squats, arm exercises etc. The best part is that it is so much fun! Report
I had no idea you could do so many exercises with a hoop. Looks like fun! It's always good to get new ideas for exercising. Thanks for posting! :) Report
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