“Contrary to popular belief, it’s not actually about gyrating.”
The woman leading this hula-hoop fitness class in a park in London’s east end is almost superhumanly cheerful. She explains that for hula-fitness purposes, one must shift from front to back, avoiding the clumsier, thrustier movements of our childhood hooping days. After this tip the hoops move more fluidly around our bodies. There’s an audible sigh of relief from the slightly stressed-out class.
Hailed as last summer’s Next Big Thing by fit famouses like Michelle Obama and Zooey Deschanel, hooping is still going strong, which is lucky for me because last summer my Next Big Thing was “falling asleep in the sun by accident.” A good hooping workout can, apparently, burn over 350 calories. The focus on your core means it’s a great activity for waist trimming, but moves involving the arms and legs make it an effective total-body workout.
With her permanent smile, crisp outfit and careful movements, our instructor seems almost robotic, which is a problem for me because I watched Ex-Machina on the plane. I wonder if she’s going to kill us all and take her animatronically-perfect legs far away from here, laughing as she strides off: “Hula hooping… they all really agreed to hula hooping. For their HEALTH. Humans.”
Instead she stays for the entire 50 minutes, guiding the group of almost exclusively new moms and I through a mix of hooping moves I’m familiar with from the playground and others I’ve never heard of and can’t really execute. As it turns out, I don’t have the limber core I had in my hopscotch days. The exercise element is really predicated on sustained hooping, and I can barely keep it up (that’s what she said, etc. etc.).
Although it looks like a bunch of adults playing in the park, these aren’t your 8 year-old’s hula hoops. Ours are weighted, and more than one new mum around me remarks on how much harder it is than she expected. Coming from a bunch of women who recently experienced childbirth, this is a stressful sentiment.
On a scale from “lying down” (my ideal state) to “high impact workout” (my biggest fear), hooping is about a six. The exercise inconveniently shares its name with a disgusting yet salty chip-style snack in the UK, and I spend a lot of my back-and-forth time thinking about Hula Hoops™ instead of hula hoops, so I’m not putting my glutes into it like I should be. Certainly there are some sweaty women around me who look like they’ll be hurting tomorrow in a way that I will not.
Overall, I am (surprise!) quite bad at hooping. But once the initial cringe factor is dealt with, it’s actually pretty fun. As with any of these efforts, I’ve come to realize that the activity itself is barely the point: it’s all just a method of leaving a semi-prone position and moving your body in any way for an extended period of time. In that respect: I did it! I log the hour in My Fitness Pal, feeling stretched and warmed and more ready to spend the glorious London afternoon jostling my way onto buses and apologizing to people for mistakes they’d made themselves.
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