The Great Singapore Workout

Singapore Infopedia

by Thulaja, Naidu Ratnala


Launched by then prime minister Goh Chok Tong at the National Stadium on 3 October 1993, the Great Singapore Workout is a fitness routine that formed part of the month-long National Healthy Lifestyle Programme.1 The workout is a specially designed low-impact aerobic programme comprising 15 exercises which are safe and suitable for anyone between the ages of seven to 70.2 It aims to promote the message that exercise is necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle.At its launch, a crowd of 26,107 participated in the 15-minute workout at the Padang, which entered the Guinness Book of Records for the largest mass aerobic session held at one location.4

The launch
The Great Singapore Workout was launched when Goh flagged off as well as led a three-kilometre walk-and-jog session from the National Stadium to the Padang on 3 October 1993.5 The end of the walk-and-jog was followed by a 15-minute workout that involved a crowd of 26,107 participants, thus entering the Guinness Book of Records as the largest mass aerobic session held at one location. Then Permanent Secretary for Health Dr Kwa Soon Bee received the certificate from Guinness World Records Singapore at the inauguration of the Healthy Lifestyle Unit at its new premises on 18 December 1993.6

While Goh’s walk-and-jog session was ongoing, ministers and members of parliament simultaneously led mass walks at four other locations: then Deputy Prime Minister BG Lee Hsien Loong led the walk at Yio Chu Kang Stadium; then Minister for Defence Dr Yeo Ning Hong at Queenstown Stadium; then Minister for Labour Dr Lee Boon Yang at Jurong Stadium; and then Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs Mr Yatiman Yusof at Tampines Stadium.In all, more than 60,000 Singaporeans participated in the workout, conducted at five different venues.The workout was telecast live via television and radio all across the island and the Ministry of Health had also asked employers to allow their workers to take time off to exercise on the day of the workout launch.9

Schoolchildren also took part in the workout, under the project known as All Children Exercise Simultaneously (ACES). On 30 September 1993, primary schools performed the workout for the first time, followed by secondary schools and junior colleges the next day.10

Admissions to the swimming complexes of the Singapore Sports Council were made free for the day.11 The closing times for stadiums at Bedok, Bukit Gombak, Jurong, Toa PayohWoodlandsYishun and Hougang were also extended to 8.30 pm daily from 3 October 1993.12

The Workout
The Ministry of Health, which drove the National Healthy Lifestyle Programme, produced a S$500,000 video-and-audiocassette and advertisement package for the Great Singapore Workout. The name for the workout was adapted from the Great American Workout Day. The video, featuring the entire workout routine, is accompanied by a catchy theme song composed by Mr David Miller, creative director of Adcom who had produced the video. The music incorporates local ethnic beats, such as the Malay dance joget. Filmed over four days in July, the video was shot in several locations in Singapore to reflect the country’s ethnic mix. More than 200 people ranging from children to taxi drivers to celebrities were filmed doing the Singapore workout. The video was recorded in four languages: English-Chinese, English-Malay and English-Tamil.13

Choreographed by three fitness instructors, the workout is a low-impact aerobic routine specially designed to be safe for any healthy person from the ages of seven to 70.14 It comprises exercises that are grouped into five basic sets: warm up, upper body movement, lower body movement, total body exercises, and cool down.15 After warm up, the workout moves into the basic march, sidestep with scissor and arm bends, toe tap and stretch, arm and heel press, punch and kick movement, and lastly, cool down.16 It was advised that those over 35 who did not exercise regularly; were uncertain about their health conditions; had medical problems such as heart disease, asthma or fits; or were very overweight, consult their doctors before proceeding with the workout.17

Adaptations of the Great Singapore Workout
In the years that followed, the Great Singapore Workout was spontaneously adapted by groups of people to suit their fitness levels and purposes. In 1994, Changi Prison inmates performed a taiji version of the Great Singapore Workout to a slower song, which they found useful as a warm up before starting the Great Singapore Workout.18 Motorola Electronics introduced their own Great Motorola Workout at the start of every work shift on Tuesdays and Fridays. Their workout comprised three minutes of stretching, followed by seven minutes of low-impact aerobics.19 In 1995, eight sequences of the Great Singapore Workout were adapted for the wheelchair-bound, consisting largely of upper body movements.20

The Great Singapore Workout was revamped by the Singapore Health Promotion Board (HPB) in 2009 and the “New” Great Singapore Workout incorporated strength training and aerobic movements which were better suited to Singapore’s multiracial culture. The revised music and choreography were a fusion of traditional and modern elements of Singapore and included resistance band exercises and moves inspired by qigong, hip-hop, Malay dance, Indian dance and taiji. Both the original and new versions of the workouts are used during community events and HPB also developed CDs and training for the use of aerobics instructors.21 In conjunction with HPB’s launch of its new physical activity guidelines on 21 August 2011, the new Great Singapore Workout was flashed on digital screens at MRT stations to encourage commuters to adopt a flexible “anytime, anywhere” approach to physical activity.22


Naidu Ratnala Thulaja

1. Ministry of Health Singapore, Annual Report 1993 (Singapore: Ministry of Health, 1994), 30. (Call no. RCLOS 354.59570677 SMHAR-[AR])
2. Brendan Pereira, “The Great S'pore Workout,” Straits Times, 26 July 1993, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Magdalene Lum, “The Making of a Great Workout,” Straits Times, 26 September 1993, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Great S'pore Workout Breaks Guinness Record,” Straits Times, 19 December 1993, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Pereira, “Great S'pore Workout.” 
6. “Great S'pore Workout Breaks Guinness Record.”
7. “PM Goh to Lead Great Singapore Workout Today,” Straits Times, 3 October 1993, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Great S'pore Workout Breaks Guinness Record.”
9. Ministry of Health Singapore, Annual Report 1993, 30; Pereira, “Great S'pore Workout.” 
10. Ministry of Health Singapore, Annual Report 1993, 30; Pereira, “Great S'pore Workout.” 
11. “PM Goh to Lead Great Singapore Workout Today.”
12. “PM Goh to Lead Great Singapore Workout Today.”
13. Lum, “Making of a Great Workout.”
14. Lum, “The Making of a Great Workout”; Pereira, “Great S'pore Workout.” 
15. “Great Workout,” Straits Times, 1 October 1993, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Lum, “Making of a Great Workout.”
17. “Great Workout,”
18. Ginnie Teo, “PM Goh to Kick Off Healthy Lifestyle Drive on Sunday, Straits Times, 6 September 1994, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “60 Companies Now Have Health Facilitators for Staff,” Straits Times, 13 October 1994, 23. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Easy Exercises for the Wheelchair-Bound,” Straits Times, 20 February 1995, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Health Promotion Board, “Singapore Comes Together to Celebrate 20 Years of Healthy Lifestyle,” press release, 27 October 2012. (From National Archives of Singapore accession no. 20121103001); “Have a Go at the New Great Singapore Workout,” (2012, July 26). Straits Times, 26 July 2012, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Fiona Low, “Staying Fit? Do It Anytime, Anywhere,” Straits Times, 22 August 2011, 1. (From NewspaperSG)

The information in this article is valid as at September 2018 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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