What to Know About Hula Hoops for Exercise

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on August 12, 2022
4 min read

Hula hoops are commonly found in the toy section in stores, but over the years they’ve increased in popularity for fitness use. Celebrities from Beyonce to Shaq are using hula hoops to stay fit. The question is: do they really work?

The hula hoop first found its fame as a children's toy. It's a round, plastic hoop that's meant to be twirled around the for as long as possible until it falls. 

Hula hoops come in different colors, styles, and sizes. And some even light up. You can also find hula hoops with ball-bearings, beads, or bells inside them that make noise when they're twirled.

The concept of the hula hoop has been around for a long time. The oldest version of hoop-shaped toys being used for sport and entertainment date at least as far back as ancient Greece. 

The hula hoop as we know it hit the market in the 1950s. Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin, the founders of Wham-O toy company, discovered Australian children twirling bamboo hoops around their waists in gym class. This inspiration led to them creating their own version out of hollow plastic. 

The Wham-O Hula Hoop hit the market in 1958, only a year after Wham-O’s first hit toy, the Frisbee. Wham-O sold over 25 million hula hoops in the first few months and made $45 million off of the hula hoop in the first year. On March 5, 1963, Melin patented the hula hoop.

Hula hoops haven’t been universally beloved, though. At one point, Japan banned Hula Hoops over concerns of “indecency,” and the Soviet Union banned them for being an example of “the emptiness of American culture”.

Regardless of its controversial past, the hula hoop has stood the test of time. It's even left its mark on history when it comes to breaking records. For example: 

  • According to Ripley’s Believe It or Not, in 2004, a circus performer in Boston simultaneously spun 100 hoops around her body.
  • According to Guinness World Records, in 2004 in Tokyo, Japan, two people managed to spin the world’s largest hoop around their waists at least three times each. The hoop measured 13 feet, 4 inches.
  • Guinness World Records has named Betty Shurin (aka “Betty Hoops”) a 5-time record holder for speed and distance running while Hula Hooping.

The hula hoop has also made an appearance at the Olympics in rhythmic gymnastics, a women’s Olympic event in which gymnasts perform using props, including hula hoops.

Needless to say, hula hoops are still popular today. And Wham-O has continued to manufacture hit toys, including the Hacky Sack and the Slip ‘n’ Slide.

Ancient Greeks and Egyptians used hula hoops not only as toys but also for exercise. And in recent years, hula hoops have become popular for fitness purposes again.

The concept of the hula hoop seems easy, but it can be challenging to get into a rhythm. You start with your body inside the hoop, pull one side of the hoop away from your body, then push it in the opposite direction to get it going. This gives the hoop the start it needs to continue revolving around the body, but you have to build up a steady rhythm to keep the momentum going, which requires core strength and hip movement.

It helps to move your hips in circles like a hula dancer. In fact, the original hula hoop was named after the hula dance form because the motions used in hula dancing and hula hooping are so similar.

Weighted hula hoops have become a very common exercise tool. Weighted hula hoops require less energy than traditional, lightweight hula hoops, allowing you to use them for a longer period of time. They’re also much easier to keep moving, so you don’t have to constantly stop to pick up the hoop before starting again.

Weighted hula hoops typically weigh somewhere between one and four pounds. This extra weight also allows for a more full-body workout.

Can you really use hula hoops for weight loss? Or to build muscle? A few different studies have been conducted on the health benefits of hula hoops. 

One study published by Karger compared the health effects of hula hooping and walking. This study found that over six weeks, participants:

  • Lost an average of 3 cm around the waist by hooping versus 1 cm by walking
  • Lost an average of 2 cm around the hips by hooping versus 1 cm by walking
  • Decreased their BMI by 0.2 versus 0.1 by walking
  • Decreased their whole body fat percentage by 0.85% versus 0.02% by walking
  • Increased their trunk muscle mass by 0.37kg, on par with walking
  • Decreased LDL cholesterol by 0.1mmol/L versus no change with walking

Another study done by the American Council on Exercise compared hula hooping to other forms of exercise. Researchers found that participants doing 30 minutes of hula hooping:

  • Burned an average of seven calories per minute, more than exercises like advanced Pilates and power yoga, but less than cardio kickboxing
  • Had an average heart rate of 151 beats per minute, approximately 84% of predicted heart rate max, higher than all other exercises except cardio kickboxing
  • Had oxygen consumption at 20.6 ml/kg per minute which fell somewhere in the middle of the other workouts

While these studies are small, they at the very least seem to indicate that hula hooping offers the same benefits as traditional cardio workouts in a unique form.