The exercise benefit of HoopRock benefit derives primarily from keeping your bodyweight under control when turning and landing.
This was really brought home to me as late as 30 minutes ago when I was working on hooping with my forearms grasped behind my back while using my shoulders to rotate my upper body. It’s really not that hard once you get used to it; the benefit comes when you really put some force behind it and have to absorb the effect in your obliques, abs and hips.
Then I started thinking about why it was better to do the shoulder rotation with my hands behind my back. A little experimentation quickly confirmed that the more my arms were extended the more their weight worked against focusing the effect of the rotation on the midsection; my shoulders were having to drag my arms along, reducing the amount of force I was able to put into the rotation.
The downside is that having your hands behind your back also limits the amount of force you can use because control is more difficult. Which is actually great in the overall scheme of things. Everything I can do in HoopRock comes from control being difficult; the body reacts by developing the reflexes and muscles to make it easy. As you try new things the cycle just keeps repeating.
So I started experimenting by holding my arms and hands in various positions and not just behind my back. I’m happy to say I came up with quite a few combinations that are all effective in different ways. Which is exciting because my midsection is where most of the remaining fat is. I know you supposedly can’t spot reduce, but it can’t hurt, and hopefully they will tighten everything up.
Forearms Clasped Behind Back
This lets you get the whole weight of your chest and shoulders into the twist because your arms are tight to your sides and your forearms locked behind your back so each side of your torso is a monolithic block. The rotation can tend to twist downward as one shoulder is dragged lower by the grip behind your back which is fine; but another combination is to focus on keeping the rotation level. You can alter your hand on forearm position or clasp hands instead of forearms to make control a little easier – you can move your arms up a little higher on your back to give the hoop a little more room. Less monolithic, but it’s all good. Your body has to adapt to every combination, hitting every muscle and combination of muscles a slightly different way each time.
Hands Behind Neck
This is fairly similar to clasping your forearms or hands in the small of your back, but you can’t get that monolithic force behind it. The payoff is you don’t run the hoop into your hands or elbows, so you can put a lot of force into it and still control the hoop. Maybe an even better pay off is that with your forearms locked instead of waving in the breeze the whole side of your body from your hip up to your elbow becomes one long structure that you can rotate around your central axis while either emphasizing the shoulder or not – again, it’s all good.
Tucked Boxer Stance
This turned out to be a really good approach. You can rotate your whole torso, particularly from the base of the ribs up, again with or without emphasis on the shoulders. With the hands close in your arms don’t really hold you back and you have the option of putting your shoulder into it in a straight ahead slight punching motion or by more actively rotating the shoulder itself.
On your toes alternate a forward crouch with a backwards arch. Try to emphasize your midsection to pull your chest and shoulders forward out of the arch.
As it turns out, the best way to force the abdominals into participating is to keep your feet in one position. If you jump you lose some of the force on your midsection that comes about because it has to cope with the shift in your upper body. If you jump the anchor is gone and the effort is mostly absorbed by your hips and legs.
Crunches (Kind of)
If you do rocking horses without jumping, just staying on your toes in one position you’ll find you can more easily focus on getting your abdominals to pull your upper body forward. It’s hard to do it consecutively past two or three cycles. It’s crunch-like when you get it right, but doesn’t truly use the abdominals exclusively.
Every rotating movement can become a crunch if you stay on your toes and don’t move your feet. The abdominals become active participants in pulling your body around. You have to experiment to find the right position, but when you do you’ll feel it. Your hips are kind of locked in one position so you have to absorb all the rotation in your midsection, which is kind of floating above your hips in a natural rotation except you can feel your stomach muscles kicking in as a natural part of keeping everything going. Once they do I can only continue for a very short time. My stomach muscles get too tired and I lose my breath. Feels a lot like doing crunches. I’m hoping I can get that same kind of thing going while doing rocking horses, which for a now are a lot less stable making it harder to put the abs in control.
A narrow stance means your hips provide a less stable platform for your midsection so your hips and midsection have to work harder to maintain your balance within a narrow range of motion. If you tuck your hands behind your back they have to work that much harder.
Did I Mention It’s All Good?
Because of the music HoopRock is actually fun. The exercise benefits are what I’m using to get you interested, but they’re just a fortunate side effect. If you like music and give it a chance I think you’ll feel the same.
The moves you can come up with while hooping are effectively limitless, which seems to me to be the best kind of exercise there is, whatever reason you do it for.