Hula-hooping and jiving!

When I was in my second year of university, a few of the girls in my year bought hula-hoops. Part joking, part serious, we starting hooping in the corridors of our college saying that it would help tone our abs! Last night I hit the dance floor at Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes armed with a large red hula-hoop, hoping to remember some of my hooping skills and determined not to look like a complete fool!

Fortunately, I wasn’t completely awful and after a couple of minutes I getting into the swing of things! I was joined by fellow SciCommers Ben, Anna and Farrah and we laughed our way through a G&T fuelled evening of hula-hooping and attempting to jive. Inspired by our evening, I thought it might be fun to look into the scientific literature and see if there were any studies into the art of hula-hooping. This fabulous introduction comes from a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 1959:

“With the advent of the brightly coloured plastic hula-hoop rings, hooping has spread far and fast over our globe. It has become a popular sport of school children and even adults have not been above joining in exhibitions and contests of endurance.”

Well that was certainly true of those who hit the dance floor last night!

The few modern studies of hooping focused on the biomechanics and skills needed to actually hula-hoop. Is this the most complicated description of ‘shake your hips’ ever?

“Hula hooping’’ is a complex skill in which an unstable object, a hoop, is kept in steady oscillation parallel with the ground plane by means of coordinate oscillations of the body.

In manipulating the hoop, the performer exerts small but carefully regulated impulses (where impulse equals force time) by allowing the body to impinge on a small portion of the interior periphery of a short section of the hoop. The subtle application of impulses produces changes in the angular momentum of the hoop. If the impulse forces are so directed that there is a small vertical component of this momentum opposing the force of gravity (which acts uniformly over the plane of the hoop), then the resulting horizontal motion will be maintained.”

This study, and a subsequent one by Ramesh Balasubramaniam and colleagues, looked in detail at how people moved in order to keep the hoop moving rhythmically around their body. Although there were similarities across the study’s participants “the results demonstrated that while the hip ab/adduction involvement was similar across participants, the contribution from the ankle, knee, and hip flexors/extensors varied across participants. In fact, where one participant used a ‘‘knee” strategy, the others used an ‘‘ankle-hip” strategy, or a balanced strategy that incorporated the ankle, knee, and hip flexors/extensors.

It doesn’t really reveal too much into the art of hooping, and it appears there could be a darker side to hooping…

The 1959 journal article states that “the joy of hooping may not be unalloyed with some hazards in this unusual form of exercise.” It goes on to describe 5 cases studies of children who have exhibited ‘hula-hoop syndrome’ – “unusual aches, pains and other constitutional disturbances which may be a result of excessive hooping round the neck, waist, hips or knees.

Another study in the slightly obscure Yonsei Medical Journal documented the case of a patient who “in an attempt to lose weight, the patient had been exercising 30 minutes daily for about six months, using a hula-hoop.” She had presented with a perirenal hematoma (a haemorrage of the kidney into the space surrounding it), the cause of which the medical team concluded to be “a result of a repeated minor injury caused by hula-hooping.

Fig 2 CT scan showing the hematoma encircling the left kidney without structural distortion before (A) and after (B) contrast enhancement (Yonsei Med J. 2007 October 31; 48(5): 868–870)

Wow – so that puts a little bit of a downer on such a great evening! But only a minor amount… because a) I don’t hula-hoop enough to result in such injury and b) it was so much fun! So, to turn back to the fun of hula-hooping, here’s a fantastic video that Huw James sent me earlier today.

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