Hula Hooping: Perfect Body Fat Redistribution Workout? Study Shows 3.4 cm Reduction in Waist Circumference & Redistribution of Body Fat Away From the Midsection

You don't even need that many hoops.
Ok, this is not the type of exercise you usually read about at the SuppVersity, but the effects the six week hula program had on the eighteen 32-58 year-old female participants with a waist-to-hip ratio <0.9 in a recent study from the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at the Department of Kinesiology of the University of Waterloo had are too impressive and surprising to ignore them.

I mean, who of you would have thought that weighted "hula hooping" can reduce your waist and hip girth significantly and even trigger a redistribution of body mass within only 6 weeks of training? No one?
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What, I guess most of you would rather have expected, that Stuart McGill and his colleagues would have observed improvements in torso muscular endurance as measured by isometric testing - an effect of which Figure 1 tells you that it did not occur in the study at hand.
Figure 1: The scientists did not observes significant performance increases (McGill. 2014)
There were increases, yes, but let's be honest: What's the average increase in strength endurance during the plank exercise worth, if if the corresponding standard deviation is more than 10x larger than the change? Nothing, right... but before we get lost in statistics, let's briefly take a look at the exercise protocol that was performed during the 6-week study:
Figure 2: Progressive "overload", the duration of the hooping sessions increased progressively (McGill. 2014)
As you can see the scientists used a progressive approach and increased the duration of the training sessions slowly to 15 minutes five times per week in weeks 3-6 (see Figure 2).

The hoop used was a weighted hoop measuring 1.02m in diameter with a mass of 1.7kg. The hoop was comprised of eight segments (approximately 0.4m in length) with a "knobby" inner ring thought of having the possibility of stimulating torso muscle activity (Figure 3).

Figure 3: In-gym intra-workout photo from the original publication (McGill. 2014) - I assume the guy on the right hand side of the photo is the trainer.
As the scientists point out, one of the initial reservation was the initial waist to hip girth ratio as it was suspected that those with a larger waist girth may find successful hooping extremely difficult (ie a pear-shaped vs an apple shaped mid-section about which the hoop swirled). Rather than screening for this stature, all recruited women were measured, and all were found to have a smaller waist than hip girth (mean waist/hip girth ratio of 0.89).

During the trial participants attended a formalized group class once each week and used the hoop on their own, four additional times per week. Participants maintained participation log-books. One of the four participants who did not complete the trial was unable to comply with the “at home” exercise requirements.

Basically, you already know what happened, but in view of what you've just learned about the body size of the women, the absolute loss of 3.4cm from the waist and 1.4 cm from the hips probably sound even more impressive, right?
Figure 4: We are not dealing with an overall, but a spot reduction in body fat (McGill. 2014)
If you look at the actual data in Figure 4, though, you will realize that we are dealing with a zero sum game. The fat was simply redistributed from the midsection to the extremities - no wonder the body weight didn't really change.
Figure 4: Olson and Edelstein observed spot reduction in the trained arm in a 6-week study in response to single-arm 7-RM curls in thirty-two subjects (Olson. 1968)
Bottom line: Even if the results of the study at hand turned out to be less exciting than you previously thought, they are still intriguing, because (a) it's the fat in the midsection that's bad for your health - the Hula program should thus actually have had beneficial effects on the health of the already healthy, non-obese participants; and (b) the results indicate that there is something like "spot reduction" or rather "redistribution", a commonly doubted phenomenon of which some older studies still say that it exists - e.g. "hard exercise in a specific area of the arm will result in a reduction of the subcutaneous adipose tissue in that area" (Olson. 1968; similar results in Schade. 1962) - while others claim to have found significant evidence "against the validity of the concept of 'spot reduction'" (Gwinup. 1971).

Overall, the "repositioning" or "redistribution" effect wouldn't count as "spot reduction" in the strict sense, anyway, and could eventually be a logical consequence of what previous studies in obese individuals have already shown: The unhealthy intra-abdominal fat (the one that is not covering your abs) is always the first to go | Comment on Facebook!
  • Gwinup et al. "Thickness of subcutaneous fat and activity of underlying muscles." Annals of internal medicine 74.3 (1971): 408-411.
  • McGill et al. "A 6 week trial of hula hooping using a weighted hoop: Effects on skinfold, girths, weight and torso muscle endurance." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2014). Publish Ahead of Print
  • Olson, Arne L., and Elliott Edelstein. "Spot reduction of subcutaneous adipose tissue." Research Quarterly. American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation 39.3 (1968): 647-652.
  • Schade, Maja, et al. "Spot reducing in overweight college women: its influence on fat distribution as determined by photography." Research Quarterly. American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation 33.3 (1962): 461-471.
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