“Right girls, we’re going to get it over our boobs now, so go faster, ready? Pump, pump, pump, pump!” Gyrating wildly we rapidly thrust our groins back and forth in time with the music, arms awkwardly raised and heads jiggling like shaking rag dolls. It’s not a tantric sex class though; it’s a Hula Hooping lesson, and it could do you more good than a trip to the gym.
During the winter months we all find it difficult to stick with an exercise routine, but doing something you actually enjoy – like an alternative form of exercise – could be the best way to work off those extra Christmas pounds.
“It sounds obvious but if you choose an exercise you enjoy, you are more likely to keep doing it because it’s intrinsically motivating – the exercise itself is the reward,” Jeremy Adams, Principal Lecturer in Sport and Performance Psychology at London Metropolitan University explains. “Recent research suggests that if you do something fun you will be happier, less prone to stress, have more energy and sleep better than if you force yourself to go to the gym every week.”
So what can you do to give yourself a better boost than running on a treadmill?
Hula instructor Charlene Davies incorporates a philosophy of fun into her classes: “Hula Hooping gives you fantastic abs but people keep coming back because they enjoy it. I hold couples classes and incorporate salsa moves into the routines, we even have hula races, so each class is different”.
Are there any additional benefits? “You have to focus on your own body, which is quite meditative and Hula also brings out your inner child – so you just have fun rather than thinking about the exercise.”
Despite the sexy hip thrusting, the Hula class is in many ways a return to the playground. It’s wonderfully uninhibited and everyone laughs when they goofily drop their hoop or miss a trick; there’s not an ounce of self-consciousness in the room.
Let’s run away to the circus
For a more vigorous workout, Moira Campbell, Programme Director for the Hangar Arts Trust, teaches a full range of circus skills at a warehouse in east London. “Rope climbing is a full body workout. You get a more athletic physique than those gym bunny muscles because you use your own body as resistance.”
What Ms Campbell fails to mention is that rope is primarily for masochists; after an hour your arms will lose all their strength and your feet will be ripped to shreds by rope burn, but the experienced performers (whose feet have long since learned to endure the pain, or possibly just fallen off) twirl up and down the ropes in a vertical dance of athletic grace.
Trapeze is less painful; you learn to transition through elegant poses like ‘The Crucifix’, where you stand to one side of the seat with arms outstretched like Kate Winslet in Titanic. Being upside-down is disorientating, but many of the basic moves are easy to master.
Ms Campbell says people stick with circus to learn a new skill: “After a while the physical benefits are just a bi-product. It’s inspiring to see someone do an amazing routine and think ‘soon I’ll be able to do that’.”
Another alternative (and pain free) workout is burlesque, according to burlesque queen Jo King – AKA ‘Goodtime Mama Jojo’.
“The wiggling and grinding is good for the pelvic area and because you wear high heels it stretches your muscles in a different way from normal exercise,” she says.
Women at her classes learn more than just seductive dance moves. “My students gain confidence. They have improved body image, they wear different clothes and they interact with people differently. Above all they have much more self esteem, and isn’t that ultimately what we all want to get from exercise?”
She makes a good point; exercise is often an arduous task we undergo just to make ourselves ‘look better’, but if we can tone down the seriousness and tone up the fun, it’ll be better for our minds as well as our bodies.
Where: FRAME, Shoreditch, Monday nights
Cost: £12 a session.
What it does: Regresses you to childhood.
Exercise equivalent: Around 50 sit ups and 20 jumping jacks
Where: The London Academy of Burlesque holds classes in various locations across London.
Cost: £15 for a taster session (£10 for DanceWorks members)
What it does: A confidence booster
Exercise equivalent: A beginner level dance class
Where: The Circus Space near Hoxton Square offers three year degrees in circus training and taster days. The Hangar Arts Trust, East Greenwich holds evening classes for amateurs and professionals.
Cost: £55 for a half day course, £15-£18 per class.
Non-professional classes include static and flying trapeze, tightwire, unicycling, tumbling, silks and ropes.
What it does: One day you can say “I quit, I’m running off to join the circus” and actually mean it.
Exercise equivalent: Full body workout and circuit training.