Spin to trim: Hoop your way to fitness

Love handle, beer belly, breadbasket, spare tyre, whatever you want to call it, the abdomen is the one body part everyone wants to trim and tone.

The belly radiates a certain sex appeal in both genders, and it is probably the only section people don't mind having flat. I have no idea how the term sexy became equated with flat abs, but you certainly don't hear cries for a flat tush, or a flat or scrawny top.

I talked about belly-blasting moves in my last column and we examine it again today, albeit differently. If you're tired of doing crunches and planks to whittle your waist, grab a hula hoop and twirl it around your midsection.

Hooping - the modern evolution of the hula hoop, is no child's play, although you've probably spun it around aplenty as a kid. It has become popular in some parts of the world and proponents promote the activity as a total body workout.

Apparently, Michelle Obama, Beyonce and former basketball star Shaquille O'Neal are advocates of the hooping workout and swivel their hips frequently to keep their protrusions in check.

Rumour has it that America's First Lady can do some neat hula moves on her knees! In one interview, Kelly Osbourne revealed that hula-hooping helped her whittle two inches off her waist.

According to a 2010 study conducted at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in the United States, hooping burns an average of seven calories a minute and around 210 calories for a 30-minute workout.

At first glance, this may not sound like much (a 68kg person running a mile in less than 12 minutes will burn between 100-120 calories), but it's about the same results you'd get from a cardio kickboxing or aerobic class, or even brisk walking.

The added benefit: you get a sleeker midsection without having to do spot training for the abs.

The rhythmic nature of hooping can also be relaxing and meditative.

History states that hula-hooping dates back thousands of years to ancient Egypt and Greece when children used hoops fashioned from grapevines for play. It spread to England and the rest of the world as a recreational and dance activity before gyms and fitness centres started using it for exercise.

The community grew to be so big that in 2007, two hoopers founded World Hoop Day. Thousands of hoopers synchronised their steps and gyrated their hips on six continents, and continue to do so on the first Saturday of October every year.

The day also brings cost-effective toys that double as a portable gym to remote areas of the world where resources are limited.

Hoopers perform in many cities and countries to raise money for charity, and donate hoops to societies that can't afford them. The intention is for children to have fun, exercise their imaginations, and keep physically fit.

I was introduced to hooping a decade ago by a dance instructor, and was delighted at how quickly I saw my abs contouring and waist shrinking, though the latter wasn't my intention on my Twiggy frame.

The first few classes left me with bruises all over my belly from the weight of the hula. Weighted hula hoops for adults weigh between one to five pounds (0.5 to 2.3kg) and are made of wood, rattan or plastic tubing.

In contrast, children's hoops are typically made of lightweight plastic, have a very small diameter, and are incredibly difficult for most adults to use.

With smaller and lighter hoops, it takes more energy to keep the hoop going, so it's sheer wonder how the kids spin it so well. I tried with my nephew's baby hoop and I couldn't even manage one full rotation!

Some people believe the lighter hoops enable you to sweat more because you have to expand more energy to keep it going. Yes, you lose more calories, but it doesn't trim the waist as effectively.

The added resistance created by a somewhat heavier hoop allows it to rotate around the body slowly, and has a remarkable way of sculpting and reshaping in all the right places.

How to choose a hoop? The right size reaches anywhere between just below your belly button and the middle of your chest when it's resting vertically on the ground. The weight is up to you. Most weighted hoops have a diameter between 38 and 42 inches (96-107cm).

You don't need to be a whiz to learn to hoop. Start with one leg in front of the other, and loop the hoop over your belly. Hold the hoop parallel to the floor, contract your abdominal muscles, give it a good twirl to start spinning, and slowly rock back and forth in a circular motion until you get the rhythm.

If your hoop wobbles and starts to fall, lengthen your spine and move faster. Move side to side with your waist and hips or back to front with your belly.

Hooping can be frustrating, but once you get it, voila!

Over time, you can add in turns, squats and overhead passes from one hand to the other to work other muscle groups.

Now, I occasionally incorporate hooping as part of circuit training classes and my students love it. However, the young men tend to lack grace and coordination, while the young ladies sail through.

Just keeping the hoop in place provides enough challenge for these men, but they don't mind fumbling in the name of fun. When I tell them to do 30 burpees or crunches, they'll moan and groan, but bring on the hula, and their faces will light up like they've touched down in Hawaii.

Weighted hoops are a great addition to your workouts. All you need is 10 minutes of spinning. If you can't manage it at one go, break it up into two five-minute sections.

It's best to spin in both directions so both sides of the abs get an equal workout, although, if you're right-handed, it's easier to spin anti-clockwise.

You don't need to do any fancy tricks - just spinning the hoop is enough to trim your waist, see some definition, and attract stares.

The writer is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance, but longs for some bulk and flesh in the right places. The views expressed are entirely her own.