Health & Fitness

Hanging on hoops for fitness

hoop

Hildah Lumadi, an aerial hoop fitness trainer at Shakti studio in Milimani, Nairobi on September 1, 2021. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NMG

Summary

  • Aerial exercises involve sitting, standing, and hanging on the hoop.
  • Body soreness should be expected and for some, light-headedness.
  • For clothing, avoid loose ones. You can do the exercises barefoot or with socks.

Recently, I decided to exercise a few meters above ground level on an aerial hoop— a large, round metal hoop suspended in the air. My instructor was Hildah Lamadi, the lead aerial hoop trainer at Shakti Studio in Kilimani, Nairobi.

Ms Lumadi is as flexible as clay in the hands of a potter. To her, doing the splits on the ground is as natural as blinking. But the 29-year-old body’s full potential is seen when she is on the aerial hoop suspended at least two and a half metres above the ground.

On it, she twists and bends the body in ways some of us dream of, moves that have brought her a multitude of health benefits. Since November 2020, she has been helping scores of women reap the benefits of aerial hoop.

“Aerial hoop workouts are fitness exercises done inside the hoop. The exercises are unique and challenging but the best thing about them is that they are super fun,” Ms Lumadi says.

Aerial exercises involve sitting, standing, and hanging on the hoop. Each move or pose undertaken does wonder for one’s body and mind.

The class usually starts (and ends) with a stretch to warm up (and cool down) the body muscles such as splits, hip openers, hand and back stretching moves borrowed from yoga, high planks, bicycle crunches, foot taps among others.

With the stretch done, it was time to jump on the hoop. Being my first time, I requested to do them on a lower hoop. After hoisting myself up on the hoop— to the admiration of Ms Lumadi —the real exercises began. To banish my fear of falling, a thick mattress was put beneath assuring me of a soft landing in case of any eventualities.

I began by being as comfortable as possible seated on the hoop, with my hands holding on tight. I did moves that required me to fit my upper body into the hoop with my legs and hands hanging out.

“The aerial hoop is a full-body workout since it requires you to engage your upper body—core, arms, and shoulders — and the lower body,” the acrobat for 15 years says, adding that it is through such moves that one builds their body strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination.

Some of the hoop moves include the ‘Gazelle’, ‘Man on the Moon’, ‘Closed Delilah’ and ‘Secretary’, and vary with complexity depending on whether one is a beginner, intermediate or advanced aerialist.

With every move, I had to stabilise myself on the hoop, think of how to best do the move, keep my hands and legs engaged (not flaccid by my sides), my core tight, toes and fingers pointed straight, and breathe.

Fifteen minutes in and I had a gloss of sweat on my forehead. For all my troubles, I was glad to have done the ‘Man on the moon and the ‘Secretary’ move. My daily stretching habit had finally paid off.

It is also a great way to improve one’s mental health. The moves release happiness hormones and require mindfulness which improves focus.

Aerial hoop fitness also aids in weight loss because it offers both cardio and strength training. For example, hanging upside-down may sound easy in theory but in practice, it is a strenuous activity for both the body and mind.

The use of the hoop is relatively new in Kenya. Since Shakti studio began the classes in November 2020, there has been an increase in its uptake as people seek new ways to break the monotony in fitness routines.

Most of her clients darken the door of the studio in search of an out-of-the-box workout routine, a burst of endorphins, upper body strength and flexibility of body and mind.

Marika Giudici has been ‘hanging out’ at Shakti Studio since March 2021. The rush of exhilaration that comes from being in the air has become a great way for the 28-year-old to de-stress.

She started with pole dancing in 2018 but fell in love with the aerial hoop in 2019 in Italy. Passionate about the sport, it was one of the first things she sought out immediately after moving to Kenya. The fitness regime has taught her how to use her mind and body in new ways.

“I love doing something challenging with my body and the aerial hoop allows me to do that,” the development practitioner says. “There’s a satisfaction that comes from pushing my body further every day.”

Ms Giudici, who trains twice a week, adds that it has boosted her self-confidence. Watching her body morph to doing moves she considered impossible and difficult, she has been awakened to the fact that it’s possible to do anything she puts her mind to.

“It’s also improved my concentration levels. It’s very hard to think when hanging upside down because the blood flows to your head. Learning to focus under such pressure has spilled over to my day-to-day life,’’ she says.

Is the hoop painful for beginners? “The first few classes will be challenging but with consistent practice, your body gets used to the movements. You’ll also probably get blisters at the beginning too but afterward, you’ll really enjoy the exercise,” Ms Lumadi says.

Sh1,500

Body soreness should also be expected and for some like me, light-headedness.

For those who are not into the aerial hoop, the studio also has a pole as fitness equipment. Just like the hoop, it is a full-body workout. It increases body flexibility, builds and tones muscles, and the calories torched while on the pole aid in weight loss. Finally, it bestows sky-high confidence. Classes are also for one hour in the studio which offers yoga as well.

The calorie-burning classes last for 60 minutes and cost Sh2,500 for a private class and Sh1,500 in a group at the female-only studio.

One can go with their own hoop and rig or use the one provided by the studio. Aerial hoop exercises can be done by all age groups including children and pregnant women.

In pregnant women, it improves flexibility of the hips and in children, it develops self-discipline, confidence, endurance, balance and coordination.

“For pregnant women, working on a lower height is recommended with modification and intensity of moves as the pregnancy progresses,” the mother-of-one explains.

What should one wear to the class? Avoid loose clothing. Go for skin-hugging clothing like long tights and a t-shirt over a fitting sports bra. You can do the exercises barefoot or with socks.