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Party Hoopers 

Hula hoopers burn calories, tone core muscles and have fun

click to enlarge Instructors Julie Merritt, Morgan Tsu-Raun and Kimberly Lobert (left to right) call Hula hooping "exercise in disguise."
  • Instructors Julie Merritt, Morgan Tsu-Raun and Kimberly Lobert (left to right) call Hula hooping "exercise in disguise."

When I arrived at City Park to meet with Kimberly Lobert, owner and founder of Nola Hooping (www.nolahooping.com), and instructors Julie Merritt and Morgan Tsu-Raun, I dreaded the hula hoop. As a child, I could never keep the hoop in motion longer than 10 seconds, so I reacted with skepticism when they told me "anyone can hoop."

  The instructors explained the basics of hooping: one foot forward, knees bent, arms at the sides and small, controlled back and forward pelvis movements. On my first try, I dropped the hoop.

  "When it falls down, we just tell people they're adding a lunge to the workout," Lobert says.

  Hula hooping can burn as many as 100 calories in 10 minutes, strengthen core muscles and increase balance and stamina, Nola Hooping instructors say. Hooping also stimulates lymph nodes located in the belly, which results in increased circulation, a strengthened immune system and elimination of metabolic waste, Merritt says.

  "The massaging quality of hooping stimulates the release of serotonin into the bloodstream," she says. "It's like taking a happy pill."

  Open since last July, Nola Hooping offers 21 classes a week at nine locations in the New Orleans area. Offerings include a hooping fitness class where participants learn basic and intermediate moves, "hoopilates" (a hybrid of hooping and Pilates), and cardio hoops (a cardiovascular workout using hoops). While each class covers basic instruction for beginners, instructors also incorporate more advanced moves, such as arm twirling and dance routines, to keep classes exciting and ensure a full-body workout.

  At first glance the hoops might seem too large, but instructors say a smaller circumference makes hooping more difficult. The small plastic hoops sold at toy stores are responsible for much frustration in beginners.

  "If you don't have the right size hoop, you're not going to get where you want to be," Merritt says. "We tell people, 'It wasn't you. It was the hoop.'"

  With each attempt, I managed to hoop longer. Although the hoop ended up around my ankles every time, Merritt, Lobert and Tsu-Raun said I'd soon be hooping in my sleep.

Instructor Morgan Tsu-Raun demonstrates basic hooping

Helpful Tips: When beginning, hoop for five to 10 minutes until you build stamina. Wear clothing made of natural fibers and avoid bending at the waist or lifting your arms straight up, as this will cause your hoop to fall. Keep movements small and controlled to prevent losing control of the hoop or having it hit your face. Bruising on the abdomen can occur when using a weighted hoop.

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Place the hoop around your waist, touching the small of your back. Stand with one foot forward, keep knees slightly bent and tilt the pelvis forward just a little.

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Give the hoop a strong push in the direction (right or left) that feels most natural. Immediately push forward from your center while shifting your weight forward and back, repeatedly. Stay upright and keep your arms out of the way. If the hoop starts to drop, try pushing faster to recover it.

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