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Originally published Wednesday, June 25, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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The Diet Detective

Hula hoops and jump ropes offer two inexpensive ways to get in shape

Here are two inexpensive, fun ways to get in shape. Hula Hoops Benefits: "Great transverse [rotational] and frontal [side-to-side] plane...

Special to The Seattle Times

Here are two inexpensive, fun ways to get in shape.

Hula Hoops

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.

What you need: A hula hoop.

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," says Klint.

Having trouble keeping it going? "Try putting the opposite foot in front and rotating the hoop 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," says Klint. If you want to put more spice to your hoop workout, Klint recommends adding some music.

How many calories you burn (based on a 155-pound person): 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.

Jumping Rope

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, says Comana. "It will also produce an aerobic training effect if continued for 15 minutes or more," adds Phillips.

What you need: A jump-rope (www.ropesport.com,www.amazon.com,www.esportsonline.com).

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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," says Solis.

To get started, Marty Winkler, co-owner of RopeSport (www.ropesport.com), suggests the following:

• Use some wrist and forearm when turning the rope. Make small circles or a cranking motion.

• Jump only an inch or 2 off the ground.

• Land softly.

• Look straight ahead. Watching your feet doesn't help.

• Keep hands level with the hips. Don't let them raise or lower.

• Push off and land with the balls of the feet. Heels should just tap the ground.

• Relax your neck.

• Avoid hunching.

• Keep your elbows bent as if you were holding a curl bar. A rope that's too long will pull your elbows away from your torso.

• Remain loose but controlled.

• Breathe normally. You should be able to have a conversation while you're jumping.

• If you get tired, you can still get a great workout by turning the rope to the side of your body or by just holding onto the rope and continuing to mime the jumping motion.

How many calories you burn (based on a 155-pound person)*: 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.

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate, founder and editor of DietDetective.com, the online source for nutrition, fitness, food, diet and wellness information. Copyright, 2008, by Charles Stuart Platkin. All rights reserved. Sign up for the free Diet Detective newsletter and iTunes podcast at www.DietDetective.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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