Hula hoops are the latest 1950s fad resurrected by the pandemic

Fun, but not easy.
Fun, but not easy.
Image: Reuters/Russell Cheyne
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We may be headed for a post-pandemic roaring ’20s, but right now the vibe is more 1950s American suburbia.

Those privileged enough to be mostly stuck at home this year took to homemade baking like bored June Cleavers. Drive-in movie theaters also sprung up in parking lots around the world. And now it seems that hula hooping has become a pandemic fitness trend, with adult women taking to TikTok and Instagram to show off their skills, according to the Wall Street Journal. They may be using standard hoops, or weighted ones made for heavier workouts, or even a smart hoop that speaks to an app, the story explains.

Wham-O hoops, which are now made by a company called Intersport, were basically sold out by mid-summer, journalist Kim Richters reports. Intersport told the Journal that its US warehouse was “pretty well depleted,” by the beginning of July 2020. Compared to 2019, the company saw sales jump by 20% to more than 1 million hoops last year.

Hoopologie, a Boulder, Colorado seller of plastic tubing and other hula hoop supplies, also told the Journal it had its best year ever in 2020. “It was like the floodgates opened,” founder Melinda Rider said.

Runner’s World apparently has its finger on the fitness trend pulse. It broke down the benefits of hula hooping for its readers just last month. “Like skipping, hula hooping can torch calories and help you build those all-important core muscles to run stronger,” it said. Weighted hoops can weigh 1 to 3 kg (2.2 to 6.6 pounds), and the magazine advises starting with the weight that feels most comfortable.

The literature on hula hooping doesn’t run very deep, but a small study by researchers in Helsinki and the US found that hula hooping with a weighted hoop can reduce abdominal fat and increase trunk muscles in people who are overweight. The randomized controlled trial, published in Obesity Facts, also found that hula hooping reduced LDL (low-density lipoprotein), or “bad” cholesterol, in a similar way that resistance training does.

But trimming down is hardly the only reason to hula hoop. Like mini-trampoline workouts, hula hooping might just spark some nostalgia and childhood joy. One woman interviewed by the Journal, Tinesha Matthews, 49, of Charlotte, North Carolina, got into hula hooping with a weighted hoop for about six months: “I really did feel like doing the hula hooping was a great mood booster,” she said. “It gave me energy, and it just made me happy.”

When the feeling fades, as it apparently did for Matthews (the original hula hoop fad took the world by storm in 1958, then quickly ran out of steam, too), you’re left with a piece of plastic that’s pretty easily stored, shared, or donated, and you’re only down about $30. The same cannot be said for all home gym pandemic panic buys.