To get in shape for her October wedding, Dawn-Samantha Cahill, 25, a production coordinator in New York City, tried every exercise routine she could think of. But the upended positions that yoga required made her feel self-conscious. Running on a treadmill was a bore. And lifting weights was just too difficult. Frustrated, Cahill started overeating instead of exercising, and her weight, on a petite, 5-ft. 2-in. frame, ballooned to 212 lb.
Cahill was nearly ready to give up, until one day last spring, she discovered a video on YouTube about hula-hooping. "The woman in the video was so sexy, and the moves she was making with a hula hoop were so cool," Cahill says. "Normally, watching a gorgeous woman like this would make me feel bad. Instead, I wanted to imitate her."
The woman with the rock-hard body and come-hither hula hoop was Christabel Zamor, author of Hooping: A Revolutionary Fitness Program and founder and CEO of San Francisco based HoopGirl Inc., which offers instructional hooping videos and classes. Inspired by Zamor, Cahill started waking up at 3:15 each morning to clear the furniture from the middle of her living room and hoop to tunes by Beyoncé and Lady Gaga for 45 min. before work. In five months, she lost 46 lb., dropping from a size 20 to a comfortable size 12. "I finally found an exercise that I could do every day because I felt like I wasn't exercising at all," says Cahill, who eventually ventured out of her living room and into scheduled hooping classes in New York City. "I was just having fun."
It might have ended up as just another passing fitness fad, but hula-hooping appears to have caught on and stuck. Zamor's HoopGirl began selling weighted, adult-size hoops in 2001, and other companies, including Los Angeles-based Hoopnotica, were founded soon after. Since then, the activity has gained thousands of followers worldwide. Hoopnotica's sales have more than quintupled over the past three years, according to co-founder Keaton Koechli, while HoopGirl's teacher-training program has grown from 24 instructors to more than 350 in 13 countries. Classes in the U.S. are typically offered in private studios, though Crunch gym members in Los Angeles can now take Hula Hoop Pilates. Enthusiasts also form their own organized hooping clubs like the Bay Area Hoopers, whose founder edits the online magazine Hooping.org or coordinate frequent impromptu "meetups" in public parks and recreation centers. A recent group-hoop took place during the Race for the Cure in New York City, in which members hooped while walking three miles to raise money for breast-cancer research.
The initial appeal of hooping is that it's fun, but its lasting value is that it works. An hour of intense hooping can burn as many calories as an hour-long run on a treadmill. Exercisers can get a full-body workout with moves like HoopGirl's "pulse," which stimulates the entire core; the "limbo," which targets the back and thighs; and the "Wild West," which helps tone biceps and triceps. "Anything that gets people off the couch and burning calories is a good thing," says Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. "Hooping can be a good way to mix up your routine and keep it from being boring."
You don't have to be rhythmically gifted to succeed either. Zamor says she was an overweight graduate student who spent most of her time tied to a computer at a desk before rediscovering the hula hoop at a music-and-arts festival in Los Angeles. "When I got my hoop, I was not a natural," says Zamor, who can now twirl a hoop on virtually every body part, "but I kept practicing and realized that it was something that can be self-taught, even for people who have never hooped in their lives." What's more, says Zamor, hooping cut her stress levels, helped her drop three pant sizes and introduced her to hundreds of people she would never have otherwise met. "I found that I touched a nerve in my community hundreds of people reached out to me for instruction," she says.
As for Cahill, she'll be packing the collapsible travel hoop she received as a wedding gift to take with her on her honeymoon. And she has lost so much weight that she had to buy an entirely new gown just three months before her wedding day. "It's the best problem a bride could run into," says Cahill, "and I owe it all to hooping."