December 2, 2010

What's all the HOOPLA? It's fitness with a twist

Matt Stone

Staff Writer

RANDOLPH — Looking for a fresh way to work off the calories from that holiday meal?
For a growing number of people, the hula hoop — that round, plastic toy you tried to spin around your waist endlessly as a child — is the answer.
Eighteen people in Randolph have a head start on the trend: They’ve gathered in the Teresa C. Hamlin School gymnasium every week this fall for 90-minute sessions on hula hoop fitness.
They’ve rhythmically stepped forward and backward, squatted and swung their hips — all while trying to keep their hoops spinning around their waists. They’ve even reversed the direction in which their hoops have spun.
“People are tired of doing step aerobics and the more common things,” said Allison Gallagher, of Randolph, who’s teaching the hula hoop fitness class for Regional School Unit 11’s adult education program. “I think it’s something people did as kids, so I think they relate it to becoming young again. They feel accomplished if they can actually do it because it’s been so long since they probably tried.”
Hula hooping for fitness has a twist. Instead of using the light, plastic hoops commonly found in stores, Gallagher’s students use weighted hoops fashioned from PVC pipes and filled with varying amounts of water.
“You can sort of customize it to the size you want and the weight,” Gallagher said.
It’s an exercise that can burn 400 to 600 calories in an hour even though it’s a low-intensity workout that’s easy on the knees.
“It’s been fun,” said Melissa Gregoire, of Augusta. “I think I laugh as much as I work out.”
Gregoire said she was looking for a different kind of exercise that would be simultaneously fun and challenging.
“It kicks my butt,” she said. “It’s just . . . being able to keep that puppy swinging around 45-plus minutes without dropping it and having your body do more than one thing at a time.”
While the weighted hoop can be easier to keep at waist level than the store-bought plastic one, that only means it’s more conducive to mixing in other exercises at the same time.
“The hooping part is very easy because, just like riding a bike, you don’t forget,” said Grace Walton, of Pittston. “But some of the exercises, to train your brain to do (them) while hula-hooping is a challenge.”
Gallagher agrees.
“It’s one of those things that is really good for balance and good for coordination,” she said. “You basically need to get the students to the point where the hooping piece of it is something you do mindlessly. You’re trying to basically separate the two parts of your brain that are controlling both of those things.”
It’s something that’s hard to get the hang of, said student Carolyn Goggin, of West Gardiner.
“If I can keep it up there 15 seconds, I’m lucky,” she said.
But aptitude doesn’t define success in a hula hoop fitness class.
“It’s a very good workout,” Goggin said. “For those people who can do it, it’s awesome. For those of us who can’t, we just struggle with what we can do.”
“It’s fun. We laugh. We joke,” Walton said. “I feel good after I do it. We’re all hot and sweaty.”
Gallagher isn’t yet sure about offering the next level of hula hoop fitness during the approaching semester of adult education offerings. But she has students who are ready to continue with it.
“I would recommend it to anyone,” Gregoire said. “It’s an absolute blast.”

Matthew Stone — 623-3811, ext. 435

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