My Weapon of Choice for Inclusion & Community Cohesion – a Hula Hoop. Tips for creating an Inclusive Exercise Class.


My passion is hula hooping.  But if you’re reading this you probably know that already.

I love it because it’s fun, makes you feel fantastic, and because it’s inclusive and adaptable so that nearly everyone can find their joy of hula hooping. My other passions are inclusion, inclusive exercise, and community cohesion.  And my weapon of choice is a hula hoop.

Hula hoops are a wonderful way of combining exercise, stress relief, social skills, improving motor skills, balance and co-ordination.

Spinsonic Inclusive Hula Hoop Classes

I have been a hula hoop instructor for 4 years now.  Alongside weekly family hula hoop classes in the West Midlands, I have run workshops for the Deaf Cultural Association, free community workshops to promote health, wellbeing, social cohesion and family fitness, workshops for Birmingham MIND, and children and adults with additional needs including Autistic people, people with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, blind adults and adults and children who are wheelchair users.  Take a look at this  short promo video from my class for Sandwell Adult Services and you will be able to get an idea of what I do.
(Continued below video)

I have received a few inquiries recently on running inclusive exercise classes for people with learning disabilities.  This is a complex area and there are many issues to be aware of.  I would love to share with you my tips on leading an inclusive class and developing adaptable class plans. Before delivering your classes however I strongly recommend that you consult with the care team or organisation you are working for to ascertain any needs or special circumstances that you need to be aware of to make extra adaptations for.

Tips for running an inclusive class for adults with additional needs

Within each class you will find range of needs and abilities, so with each class plan that you make have plenty of adaptations in your arsenal. Every individual will have their own pain points to be aware of, so it's really important to peak with carers to check for any issues, such as dizziness, weak joints, aversion to loud noise, aversion to touch, ability to follow instructions visually/verbally for example.

You may find the levels of ability in one group to vary wildly, for example one person may be able to understand instructions to do the revolving door  for example, whereas the person next to them may find it difficult to understand if you ask them to put the hoop on the floor and step inside it.  You may also find that attention spans are very short, and you will need to be on the ball when it comes to reading the room and keeping the class on track. I maintain attention spans by breaking the class into small chunks, of warm up, dancing, waist hooping, a specific move, dancing again, waist hooping again, cool down.  I separate these chunks by alternating loud music with quiet when I instruct and praise, change hoops between big ones for waist and small for  off body and dancing.

Use a simple warm up to get everyone not only warmed up but focused on you and following instruction.  The music will be all important.  Create a happy party vibe with lots of repetition and sing out loud songs.

Use the start of the class to gets hands and feet working together, using simple side steps, and swinging the hoop in different planes and directions. This starts your hoop party!  When it  comes to teaching actual moves and tricks and waist hooping, bring things right down to basics.  By this I mean passing the hoop from hand to hand, balancing (dangling) the hoop on the back of your wrist and moving from side to side, or stepping in and out of the hoop.  These can be huge achievements!  Starting from the very basics allows you to j

Hula Hoop Workshops

Hula hoop for physical and mental health

udge each person's individual ability and weak spots, and allows you to monitor progression.

Demonstrate the move slowly a few times without music. At this point the carers/helpers can go around and demonstrate to the people who aren't as close to you and help them put their body/hands in right position.  Then turn up the party tunes and give everyone some individual attention.  My groups are usually around 15 people, ranging in age from around 20 to 73.  You can give the more able people more complex variations on a 1-2-1 basis.

 During the class keep moving, ensuring plenty of eye contact, use of names, praise and encouragement - and high fives!

Waist hooping can be particularly challenging for some people. Even letting go of the hoop can be a big challenge - and a big achievement.  Let every step be met with celebration and encouragement. From standing inside the hoop putting over their heads and holding it unaided,  holding it against the back unaided, turning in a circle holding the hoop, letting go, spinning and managing one rotation... over the weeks and months the one rotation will turn into 5, 10, or 20, or more!

Case Study

It has taken one of my students 18 months to be able to place the hoop against her back to begin waist hooping unaided, and to manage more than 1 rotation.  She can now get started all by herself and do 8 rotations and is trying for 9.  She is so happy and pleased with herself, and her confidence has grown over the months in leaps and bounds.  She no longer tells me "sorry, but I was trying my best" several times a session (she suffers from self esteem and confidence issues, and always says she feels tired and sore).  She tells me" look! I can do it! Did you see that!"  I ask her are you tired, do your legs/arms/etc still hurt?  The answer is always a resounding no.  With the biggest smile.She is incredible, and has worked so hard and never given up, and the joy and confidence you see shining from her face by the end of each session is wonderful. She never misses a session!

Ideas for moves to get started with.

Ideas for moves that have been particularly successful with my groups are:

  • Dangling/balancing the hoop from the wrists/head/arm/shoulder
  • Rolling the hoop
  • One hand throws, two hand throws, catching in same/opposite hand, over head throw (rainbow throw)
  • Revolving door/step though
  • Sparkle/horizontal isolation
  • 1 and 2 hand hand hooping
  • Waist hooping
  • Bus driver
  • Smear
  • Lasso
  • Skipping/stepping in and out
  • Two hoop mandala
  • Two hoop twist to figure 8
  • Throwing or rolling the hoop to each other in pairs
  • Push/pull isolations
  • Vertical isolations, adapted
  • Creating an orbit shape from 2 hoops
  • Building structures co-operatively
  • Seeing how many hoops you can balance on one person (often one of the carers!)
  • Putting your toe under the edge of the hoop, to flip it up to catch it or even get your whole body in it

These are just a few ideas.  Repetition is key, to build familiarity and they can feel the progress they are making themselves.

If you do something similar and want to share ideas and practice I would love to hear from you.  Similarly if you want to chat because you are interested in getting into this area of hoop teaching feel free to get in touch.

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