Lee Wei Ling doing burpees on planes

From ‘B747 days of flying, keeping fit’, 22 April 2012, article by Lee Wei Ling, Think, Sunday Times

…When I returned to Boston, I would fly from Singapore to Hong Kong, where I would have a layover of about an hour. I would always head for the staircases upon disembarkation, and walk up and down the stairs for as long as I could before I had to re-embark. I would get back into the plane all hot and sweaty, and quickly head for the toilet on board to wash up.

The next sector, Hong Kong to San Francisco, was long. I would usually wake up well before we arrived, and if I felt energetic enough, would do step aerobics on the narrow staircase connecting the lower and upper decks. If I went up and down just one step of the staircase, I would not get an adequate workout. But if I took two steps with each stride, the height was more than 25cm, it would be physically challenging, especially if I used only my legs to power me.

…The San Francisco to Chicago sector is one of those medium-distance flights, long enough to make one tired and bored, but too short for sleeping. Chicago Airport is a huge sprawling affair where one has to often walk a long distance from the arrival to the departure gates. At that point, I would often be too tired to look for a staircase.

Instead, I would get to the boarding area as quickly as I could and simply lie on the carpeted floor. The carpet was invariably thin and the floor hard, but I had no choice. The chairs in boarding areas are often designed with arm-rests, specifically to prevent people from stretching out on them.

…SIA now has all-business class Airbus A-345 flights that go direct from Singapore to Los Angeles or Newark. But alas, these airplanes have only one level and no stairs. And since these non-stop flights seem to go on forever, I would often find myself pacing the aisles or doing burpees at the spaces separating one section of the plane from the other. But burpees involve very unnatural movements and are very exhausting, so I cannot continue the exercise for more than five minutes, leaving me a lot of time to kill but mentally too tired to read.

The retirement of the Boeing 747 in SIA’s fleet reminds me of an earlier period in my life when I was fighting fit. I had an obsession with exercise that enabled my mind to overcome the fatigue my body felt and to push myself to the limit and beyond. Ten years on, SIA has upgraded its airplanes, but my physical fitness has deteriorated. I look back with nostalgia to the days of the 747s, more because of what my body could do rather than for the 747s themselves. I know that ageing is inevitable, but I resent it nevertheless.

I didn’t think it was possible to do burpees on a plane, but with the aid of a little alcohol, it seems you can, according to this ‘burpee’ blog. No doubt the humble burpee is a great cardio workout, but perhaps not so ‘on-the-go’ or discreet like climbing stairs.  With a little luck, the burpee could be the next planking, if only it wasn’t so damn exhausting. It sounds like a great idea for a flash mob, but wouldn’t last a minute to be of any impact. One burpee probably burns as many calories as the entire sequence of the Great Singapore Workout.

Other than on the aisles of planes, some burpee fans have tried to make the routine viral, like doing a few in front of a really old building.


Experts would tell you it’s not a proper burpee unless you end the sequence with a jump and hands raised, and I’m not sure what airline safety rules say on jumping on a plane. Overcoming stares to get the blood flowing on a long-haul flight is admirable, as most passengers, myself included, are inclined to just stand around, get stuff from overhead compartments unnecessarily, or wiggle their toes while watching 3 inflight movies in a row. If I ever saw the urgent need to do at least one burpee, I would pretend to drop a plastic spoon under my seat, get onto the aisle and burpee while retrieving it, with a valid excuse to raise my arms (in victory) too.

Lee Wei Ling’s behaviour around planes and airports may come across as eccentric, to put it nicely, even if for whatever medical reason step aerobics and lying on the floor are as essential for her as eating, though the underlying reason seems to be a ‘resentment’ (a euphemism for ‘fear’ perhaps) towards ageing; something that fellow columnist Sumiko Tan could relate to very well. I don’t know what the latter has been doing to stay in the pink of health, but it can’t be as remotely interesting as a member of a very prominent family in Singapore advocating squat-thrusting exercises in the weirdest places to stave off physical deterioration.

Hell, I feel like doing one now myself.

'Enough is enough! I've had it with these #&!* burpees on this @#%! plane!


One Response

  1. Oh come on, you know and I know that if anyone of us plebeians tried to do that sort of stuff on a plane we would immediately be hauled off and thrown out while the plane was making its takeoff.

    Besides, I did try lying down on the narrow aisle of the economy portion of the plane before and I got arrested for outrage of modesty

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