Here are two inexpensive, fun ways to get in shape.
Benefits: "Great transverse (rotational) and frontal (side-to-side) plane movement, which are important for reducing injury. Develops static balance (a foundation for the more important dynamic balance), improves core/trunk conditioning and flexibility," says Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. Plus, it requires "considerable abdominal or 'core' muscle activity, and promotes balance," adds H. James Phillips, School of Graduate Medical Education, Seton Hall University. Good for pelvic flexibility. Only problem is that it's not much of a cardio challenge unless you do it for a sustained period, says Mieke Scripps, a physical therapist for the Miami City Ballet.
How you play: Get the right size hoop, says Ron Klint, the founder of Canyon Hoops. (www.canyonhoops.com). "Most hoops sold at the big-box stores like Target or Kmart are kids' hoops. Unless you are very small or have the energy of a 6-year-old, you should avoid buying a kids' hoop. Adults need adult-size hoops that are larger in diameter and heavier. The measurement from the floor to the top of the hoop should be between 36 and 42 inches, or more for larger men and extremely overweight individuals. Anything from as little as 1 pound up to 5 pounds is common for adult hoops." You can get a lighter hoop to make your work a bit harder.
How to get started: First, give yourself plenty of room. "Step into the circle and place the hoop firmly against your back with your hands on both sides. With your knees slightly bent, put one foot a bit in front of the other in a relaxed, comfortable position. Give the hoop a fast spin around your waist (the hoop should rotate over your bellybutton). Using a rocking motion, mostly back and forth, catch the hoop and 'bump' it in the front of your body then the back. Do not try to turn with the hoop in a circular motion. Get in the rhythm," Klint says.
Having trouble keeping it going? "Try putting the opposite foot in front and rotating in the opposite direction. Most right-handed people rotate the hoop from right to left, and left-handed people clockwise, left to right. Try it both ways and you will immediately see which is best for you," Klint says. If you want to put more spice into your workout, Klint recommends adding some music.
Calories burned*: Basic hula hooping burns about 5.2 calories per minute, or 158 calories for a half-hour. If you get fancy, dancing and moving around, you could burn up to 7.6 calories per minute, or about 229 calories for a half-hour.
Benefits: "It develops endurance, quickness or both, depending on how you train. Improves coordination, timing, rhythm, agility and upper and lower-body muscle tone. It's inexpensive and has literally hundreds to thousands of skills for variety," says Dr. Ken Solis, aka Dr. Jump, and author of "Ropics: The Next Jump Forward in Fitness" (Human Kinetics, 1991).
Jumping rope has a good cardio emphasis, some low-intensity power, balance, coordination and agility, and could offer some benefits to flexibility if the arm and leg positions vary, Comana says. "It will also produce an aerobic training effect if continued for 15 minutes or more," adds Phillips.
How you play: "For a beginner, the best jump rope will be made of a fiber rope that is able to turn at the handles so it doesn't get twisted so easily. Ropes made of woven fiber cords don't sting so much when you miss, and you can progress to faster leather, plastic-beaded, or plastic-cord ropes when you have experience and want to jump faster. Also, be sure the rope can be adjusted for your height. If you stand on the middle of the rope, the ends should come about up to your armpits," Solis says.
To get started, Marty Winkler, co-owner of RopeSport (www.ropesport.com), suggests the following:
Calories burned*: Slow jumping burns 9.4 calories per minute and 281 calories per half-hour. Moderate jumping burns 11.7 calories per minute and 352 calories per half-hour. And if you really get cooking, fast jumping burns 14 calories per minute and 422 calories per half-hour.
*Based on a 155-pound person.
Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public-health advocate, and author of "Breaking the FAT Pattern" (Plume, 2006). Sign up for the free Diet Detective newsletter at www.dietdetective.com.