Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Apple #362: Hula Hoops

Last month, I bought a hula hoop as part of a costume. Long story, which isn't even that interesting. I wound up not using it with the costume after all, and it's been sitting around my house, just being circular.

Hula hoops: the emptiness of American culture, or something more?
(Photo from Science by email, which has lots of observations about the physics of hula hooping. And which is Australian.)

Then the other day, I picked it up and tried it out. It was harder than I'd thought it would be! I could get it to go around maybe 5 or 6 times before it dropped to the floor. I knew I wasn't doing it right, so I looked for some videos of people hula hooping, to see how they did it and maybe I could copy them.

There's some little gymnast girl out there who can hula with her finger and her neck and who knows what else while doing the splits. That will have to be a long-term goal for me. I did find one woman who looks like she's hula-hooping for exercise, and I watched her closely. I also looked for some instructions, and well, here's what I have learned so far:

  • One site recommended putting one foot in front of the other, rather than side to side. That did help me at first to get more revolutions.
  • They also said to think of it more as shifting your weight back and forth from one leg to the other, rather than circling your hips. That also kind of helped at first.
  • But then, the more I did it, I discovered that what worked better for me was to put most of my weight on my left foot and bend my right knee so that I was on the ball of my right foot. I used that leg as kind of a lever to cock my hips up and down, and that kept the hoop moving more than the weight-shifting concept.
  • However, I know I'm still not that, um, entirely streamlined about it yet. So my method might change as I get better at it.
  • I also learned, from watching the video below, that it's important when you're first pushing the hoop off to start it in a straight line. If it's circling around crooked, it's hard to get it to recover and circle straight.
  • It also helps to keep your back straight and not bend over, which you tend to want to do to keep the thing from descending toward the floor.

Her hooping instruction is somewhat helpful, but still not the whole story.

  • The hoop that she's using in the video is a sport hoop, sold for people who want to hula hoop for exercise purposes. They are heavier than the plastic toy variety, weighing anywhere from 3 to 6 pounds.
  • Because the sport hoops are heavier, some people recommend that you get the kind that are covered in foam. Apparently, without that extra cushion, some people get bruises around their mid-section, especially if they're just learning.

This hoop is wavy because supposedly the waves help keep the hoop at your waist.  It weighs 2 pounds which is supposed to help you burn more calories while hooping with it, it's made of plastic, and it's detachable so you can stow it or carry it more easily. It sells for about $16 from Sports Hoop via Amazon.

  • The concept of the hula hoop has been around for millennia. The Greeks used to use hoops as toys and as a form of exercise. So did the Egyptians.
  • Even the British used to hula hoop, as far back as the 1300s. In the 1800s, it was British sailors who first started calling them hula hoops, after the way the motion resembled hula dancers in Hawaii. But then of course the British Victorian sensibilities kicked in, and they blamed the hula hoop for all sorts of unrelated maladies and stopped using them.
  • The hula hoop fad picked up again in 1958 when two guys, Richard Knerr and Arthur Melin, after hearing about kids in Australia using wooden ones in their gym classes, made them out of plastic and sold them for $1.98. All of a sudden, everybody had to have one.

In the 1950s, children were hooping all over the place.
(Photo from Lynn University's blog)

By 1958, hula hoops were so popular, people were hooping everywhere.  Even using "Bee Nees" (a.k.a. plungers) like this one on their heads.
(Photo from The Old Motor)

  • Not only were people around the United States hula hoooping, but so were people around the world. Except, in Japan, the hula hoop was banned because the motion was thought to be indecent. The Russians scorned it as a symbol of the emptiness of American culture.
  • Apparently, you're supposed to call it "hooping," not "hula hooping."
  • The first World Hoop Day was on July 7, 2007 (7-7-7). The purpose is to raise money to buy hula hoops and give them to needy children. The next World Hoop Day was on August 8, 2008 (8-8-8) and so on. The problem with this scheme is it has to stop in 1012 (12-12-12) because there isn't a 13th month. Those wacky hula hoopers.
  • Some hooping records:
  1. Longest stint of continuous hooping: 10:47 hours, by Mary Jane Freeze, age 8, in 1976.
  2. Most hoops twirled simultaneously by one person for at least 3 full revolutions: 105 hoops by Jin Linin in 2007.
  3. Hula running. That's right, running while spinning a hula hoop around your waist. Paul "Dizzy Hips" Blair ran 1 mile while hooping in 7:47 minutes. He also ran a 10K while hooping in 1:06:35 hours.
  4. Underwater hooping: 2:38 minutes by Ashrita Furman at the Nassau County Aquatic Center, in 2007.
  5. Tractor tire hooping: Roman Schedler from Austria spun a 53-pound tire around his waist for 71 seconds at a festival in Austria in 2000.

Ashrita Furman, setting his first record of 2:20 minutes in Key Largo in 2007. He beat that record a couple of months later. That's an awfully small hoop he's got there. I wonder how long he could go with a full-sized hoop.
(AP Photo by Bob Care)

It's really a lot of fun. I recommend the hooping.

UPDATE: Even Michelle Obama is hula hooping, right on the White House lawn, to encourage children and adults to exercise and eat healthy foods. She got her hula hoop to spin 142 times before dropping, which is about the high-end of my abilities, too.

More info and some photos here.

UPDATE #2, Jan 2012: I have to admit, I gave up on the hula hoop for a while. But I picked it up again recently and, lo and behold, it was a whole lot easier. I have no idea why this is so.  A few things I'm doing differently now are
  1. I'm letting it ride not at my waistline but above it, somewhere around the lower part of my ribs.
  2. I'm not popping my hips back and forth, the way you'd walk down the street a la sultry woman style. Instead, it's more like I'm shifting my weight left and right, or moving my torso rather than my hips. 
  3. This is probably not the recommended hula-hooping method, but it's sure working a lot better for me. I've been hula-hooping while I watch TV and I can keep it going for a whole segment before a batch of commercials runs.

How to Hula Hoop,
How to Use a Hula Hoop, eHow
Mary Bellis,, Hula Hoop
Christine Sostarich, Rewind the Fifties, The History of the Hula Hoop
Laurence O'Sullivan, "The History of the Hula Hoop,", June 21, 2008, The Origin of the Hula Hoop, Hula Hoop World Records


  1. Oh, I think your costume is a pretty good story...

    For representations of hoop as toy, see


  2. Hey, she can't hula hoop with that thing. Maybe she could grill some hamburgers on it, though. And also whip them.

  3. Strangely enough, the one hula hoop that I have owned was ... peppermint scented. Oh, to have been in the product development meeting when THAT great idea was born!

  4. "Except, in Japan, the hula hoop was banned because the motion was thought to be indecent." - I agree! dirty dirty Americans...

  5. All the hula hoops I've used have had beads or something in them that made noise when it spun around. I wonder if they all have them....

  6. There's also a hula hoop game for the Wii Fit, for those who can afford Wii's but not hula hoops.(-:
    Watching my husband hula on the Wii is comedy gold.

  7. great post juliet! love to see you writing such cool stuff and keep it rolling!

  8. Thanks, everybody, for all your comments!

    And no, Jarred, not all hula hoops have beads in them that make noise when spun. Only the special, fancy ones.


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