Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Runner's Hoop Dreams

I have a confession to make.

I couldn't hula hoop as a child. I don't think I could keep a child-sized hoop aloft for even one revolution. I always thought it had something to do with the fact that I was built much like a pogo stick (another nemesis from my childhood). My center of gravity was just... wrong. At least that's what I tell myself. My cousins and neighborhood friends might tell you a different story. Perhaps I was just uncoordinated?

I grew up, learned what I was good at (throwing a softball, shooting a jump shot, running...) and thus was able to leave the hula hoop horrors of my childhood behind. Or so I thought...

Fast forward a number of decades and now, at the risk of losing whatever bit of street cred I may have as a runner (or would that be "road" cred?) I'm officially declaring my latest fitness "obsession."

The weighted sports hula hoop.

How's that for a surprising twist?

Many of us are familiar with the type of runner who just, well, runs. They often don't even lift weights. Or cross-train. Or possibly even stretch. They just run.

I can appreciate that commitment, but, although I identify myself primarily as a runner, I've rarely been "just a runner."

I guess I'm one of those gym rat types who has fallen in love over and over again at the gym - with the equipment. I've had my phases with stair climbers and recumbent bikes, rowing machines, nordic ski machines, and even a stint with 1980s aerobics classes. Perhaps ironically, I've never been a fan of the treadmill. Running on a treadmill makes me dizzy.

Then take me outside and, again, my first choice would be running. But I also enjoy inline skating, bicycling, hiking, you name it.

However, when hula hoops began to be re-introduced as an adult fitness aparatus, I was, to say the least, skeptical. One instructor I met (who was also selling a version of the product) told me "It's so easy!" "But I don't know how to hula hoop," I said. She replied enthusiastically, "You don't have to know how to hula-hoop!" Riiiiigggghhhttt...

Because I had been having a love-hate relationship with my own running for a few years now–I still love it, but sometimes it really, really doesn't seem to like me–my elliptical trainer has become my best friend, at least for the time being.

But I wanted to add something else to my routine of elliptical workouts, running and light weights. So I finally gave in and bought a weighted sports hoop.

It sat in the box for a few months. Finally, I assembled it.

It stood against a wall for another few months. Finally, I watched the short intructional video on the manufacturer's web site. No problem!

The first time I picked it up, I couldn't get it to do 1/2 revolution. And it had the added bonus of feeling like someone was smacking me with a sock full of rocks. When I finally got it around 2.5 revolutions (2.5!!) I thought I'd won the equivalent of a hula-hooping marathon.

Yet it still didn't feel like something I could do long enough to work up a sweat or increase my heart rate or ... well, anything helpful in the fitness area. I found myself laughing at the warnings all over the box:"Don't do for more than 20 minutes per day." Seriously? 20 minutes? In a row???

Turns out I wasn't doing it properly. (And this might explain my childhood embarrassment as well.)

I had to make an ever-so-slight adjustment to my stance - putting one foot slighty in front of the other. I immediately hit 50 revolutions, and smugly thought I'd figured it out. But what was this about 20 minutes?

I kept plugging along, making incremental increases, until one day when it just clicked for me. I did 20 minutes in a row!! And now I routinely do 30 minutes at one time, almost daily. (My "world record" is 3,210 revolutions in 30 minutes, for those of you keeping score at home. Yes, I count.)

I've also been pleasantly suprised by a bonus benefit. My regular hooping (5-7 days/week for more than 4 months now) has improved my running.

For the last few years I'd been having more and more aches and pains with running. Mostly aches: in my hips, glutes and pelvic bones. It started out a few years ago and had gradually worsened to the point where just about every run (even the short ones) left me overly stiff for the rest of the day and often into the next day.

However, since I've been hooping regularly, even my longest runs feel great. I don't stiffen up afterwards and I feel great the day after. It's been my little miracle in a bright, multi-colored circle.

I bought the Sports Hoop on a lark, hoping it would just be a fun distraction. But I seriously love it. I actually miss it when I don't do it one day. I've now purchased a lighter, though slightly larger hoop which came with an instructional video by Marisa Tomei.

I assembled that hoop. It's sitting against a wall, waiting for me.

Now that I've confessed, I'd love to hear your hula hooping stories. Pictures would be better. Videos would be great! Have you, your daughter or your grandmother caught the hooping bug? Send me a video! I'd love to see it!

Next I'll need to look into these adult-sized fitness Pogo sticks I've read about. Who's with me?