Simple, Inexpensive Activities That Can Get You in Shape

by Charles Platkin, PhD

Hula Hoops

Benefits: “Great transverse (rotational) and frontal (side-to-side) plane movement, which are important for reducing injury. Develops static balance (a foundation for the more important dynamic balance), improves core/trunk conditioning and flexibility,” says Fabio Comana, M.A., M.S., an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. Plus, it requires “considerable abdominal or ‘core’ muscle activity, and promotes balance,” adds H. James Phillips, P.T., Ph.D., School of Graduate Medical Education, Seton Hall University. It’s also good for pelvic mobility and flexibility. Only problem is that it’s not much of a challenge in terms of cardio if you don’t do it for a sustained period of time, says Mieke Scripps, P.T., D.T., a physical therapist for the Miami City Ballet.

What You Need: A hula hoop

How You Play: First you have to get the right size, says Ron Klint, the founder of Canyon Hoops, “Most hoops sold at the big box stores like Target or Kmart are kids’ hoops. Unless you are very small or have the energy of a 6–year–old, you should avoid buying a kids’ hoop. Adults need adult–size hoops that are larger in diameter and heavier than the kids’ hoops. The measurement from the floor to the top of the hoop should be between 36 and 42 inches, or more for larger men and extremely overweight individuals. Anything from as little as one pound up to five pounds is common for adult hoops.” He also suggests getting a lighter hoop to make your work a bit harder.

How to get started? Give yourself plenty of room. “Step into the circle and place the hoop firmly against your back with your hands on both sides. With your knees slightly bent, put one foot a bit in front of the other in a relaxed, comfortable position. Give the hoop a good fast spin around your waist (the hoop should be rotating over your bellybutton, not down on your hips). To keep the hoop rotating, use a rocking motion mostly back and forth, catching the hoop and ‘bumping’ it in the front of your body then the back. Do not try to turn with the hoop in a circular motion. Get in rhythm with the hoop,” Klint says.

Having trouble keeping the hoop going? “You might try putting the opposite foot in front and spinning the hoop in the opposite direction. Most right–handed people tend to rotate the hoop from right to left, and left–handed people rotate clockwise, left to right. Try it both ways and you will immediately see which is best for you,” says Klint. If you want to put more spice into your hoop workout, Klint recommends adding some music. Buy a Hoop Dance DVD, or turn in circles, or walk forward, backward and side to side. When you’re feeling really comfortable, add tricks to your routine, rotating the hoop around your arms, neck, chest and knees.

How Many Calories You Burn*: Basic hula hooping burns about 5.2 calories per minute, or 158 calories for a half–hour. If you get fancy, dancing and moving around, you could use up to 7.6 calories per minute, or about 229 calories for a half-hour.

Jumping Rope

Benefits: “The benefits of rope jumping are legion: It develops endurance, quickness or both, depending on how you train, your coordination, timing, rhythm, agility and upper and lower body muscle tone. It’s inexpensive and has literally hundreds to thousands of skills for variety,” says Ken Solis, M.D., aka Dr. Jump, and author of Ropics: The Next Jump Forward in Fitness (Human Kinetics, 1991).

Jumping rope has a good cardio emphasis, some low-intensity power, balance, coordination and agility, and could offer some benefits to flexibility if the arm and leg positions vary, says Comana. “It will also produce an aerobic training effect if continued for 15 minutes or more,” adds Phillips.

What You Need: A jump-rope (,,

How You Play: “For a beginner, the best jump-rope will be made of a fiber rope that is able to turn at the handles so it doesn’t get twisted so easily. Ropes made of woven fiber cords don’t sting so much when you miss, and you can progress to faster leather, plastic-beaded or plastic-cord ropes when you have experience and want to jump faster. Also, be sure the rope can be adjusted for your height. If you stand on the middle of the rope, the ends should come about up to your armpits,” says Solis.

Keep in mind that jumping with proper form is extremely important. Marty Winkler, co-owner of RopeSport, suggests the following:

  • Use some wrist and forearm when turning the rope. Make small circles or a cranking motion. –
  • Jump only an inch or 2 off the ground. Do not make big jumps.
  • Try to land softly.
  • Look straight ahead. Watching your feet doesn’t help.
  • Keep your hands level with your hips. Don’t let them raise or lower.
  • Push off and land with the balls of the feet. Heels should just tap the ground.
  • Relax your neck.
  • Relax you shoulders and keep them down. Avoid hunching.
  • Keep your elbows bent as if you were holding a curl bar. A rope that’s too long will pull your elbows away from your torso.
  • Calves, quadriceps and hamstrings act as shock absorbers. Remain loose but controlled.
  • Breathe normally. You should be able to have a conversation with someone while you’re jumping.
  • If you start to feel tired, you can still get a great workout by turning the rope to the side of your body or by just holding onto the rope and continuing to mime the jumping motion.

Jumping rope can be done as a form of exercise, athletic training, recreation, art (featured in dance concerts, circuses like Cirque du Soleil and Ringling Bros.) or as a sport (it’s internationally organized) says Solis.

How Many Calories You Burn*: Slow jumping burns 9.4 calories per minute and 281 calories per half–hour. Moderate jumping burns 11.7 calories per minute and 352 calories per half–hour. And if you really get cooking, fast jumping burns 14 calories per minute and 422 calories per half–hour.

*Based on a 155–pound person.

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