The Ethics of Human Movement

Check out our BRAND NEW mobile site!

With one click you can make Tabata Times an app on your phone to get our latest content at any time.

Page:  1Next »

The Ethics of Human Movement

“There is no reality except in action.” – Jean-Paul Sartre1
CrossFit is constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement. It consists of physical actions which mimic those performed in everyday life. Clearly, functional movements have considerable value. But how much? Does this value transcend physical benefits and enter the realm of ethics? Loosely defined, ethics consists of the set of precepts governing what an individual person should do.2 People typically conceive of ethics as externally directed — for example, how an individual should treat others or how an individual should act in certain circumstances. Yet under the basic definition, ethics merely comprises the qualities a human being should or should not possess and the actions she should or should not perform. Thus, in addition to not wrongly depriving her fellow humans of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, a person should be intelligent and fit. By this statement I mean simply that, all things considered, it is better to be more intelligent rather than less intelligent and more physically fit rather than less fit.

In order to be ethical in any respect, humans must act, and action requires movement of one’s body. For any movement, three primary questions arise: 1) how much force must the agent apply?; 2) over what distance must the agent apply that force?; and 3) how fast must the agent apply that force? The answers to these three questions define ethical precepts for human movement. They provide the minimum standards for how a human being should be capable of moving.

1. How much force must an agent apply?

[A] healthy adult between the ages of 20 and 35 is certainly capable of lifting his or her own body weight.
Imagine you find yourself in a burning building. Another person lies unconscious on the ground in front of you. Obviously, you should help this person to safety if it is within your power to do so without greatly endangering your own well-being. The question then becomes whether or not you are strong enough to lift and move this lifeless body.

To plead weakness out of ignorance, that you never developed the requisite strength because you never expected to find yourself in such a situation seems at first an acceptable, if unfortunate, response. Yet a perfectly healthy adult’s claim that he never expected to find himself in such a dangerous situation seems little excuse for his cowardice, just as a capable adult claiming she never expected to be without a calculator seems little excuse for her not knowing multiplication tables. While uncontrollable circumstances like age or physical or mental disability might serve as acceptable excuses, ignorance does not.

That said, it does seem unreasonable to presume that a trim 120-pound woman should lift a 400 pound sumo wrestler. Likewise, one should not expect an octogenarian or a pre-adolescent child to complete this task. But a healthy adult between the ages of 20 and 35 is certainly capable of lifting his or her own body weight. These considerations lead us to the following ethical precept for human movement:

Precept 1:

A human being should be able to lift an object equal in weight to his or her own body off the ground.


A human being should be able to deadlift his or her own body weight.

2. Over what distance must the agent apply a force?3

Over what distance must the agent apply a force?
Much has been said in the CrossFit community about the myriad benefits of squatting. In particular, I am indebted to Dr. Kelly Starrett, DPT, for the concept and basic rationalization of the ten-minute squat test. Here, I build on his explanation to offer a more complete justification of this skill.

According to anthropologist Gordon W. Hewes,

“A quarter of mankind habitually squats in a fashion very similar to the squatting position of the chimpanzee, and the rest of us might squat this way too if we were not trained to use other postures beyond infancy.”4

Children everywhere are capable of squatting in this position, with parallel feet, heels on the ground and hips below the knees, and there are physiological benefits to practicing this posture.

Humans living in rural, under-developed regions where chairs and Westernized toilets are less prevalent report fewer instances of low back pain (LBP) than do affluent populations and residents of urban areas.5 Thus, generally speaking, LBP is less common in areas where people regularly squat, and more common in urban, developed areas where people regularly sit.

Furthermore, according to studies by Israeli scientist Dr. Berko Sikirov, squatting allows for more complete and unstrained elimination during defecation compared with sitting by promoting greater opening of the junction between the rectum and anal canal. In addition to reducing constipation, Sikirov also demonstrated that squatting helped relieve hemorrhoids, a malady rarely seen in the third world.6, 7

Given the many benefits of squatting, little reason exists to prefer sitting to squatting from a purely objective standpoint.
So imagine you are traveling in a part of the world where chairs are scarce. The local people regularly squat when eating meals or using the toilet. Should they be required to provide you with a chair and sit-upon toilet? Or should you adopt their practices? In weighing the merit of the customs of other cultures, one should ask first whether a custom violates any universal ethical norms, and second, whether refusing to follow that custom unfairly burdens or insults its adherents. Given the many benefits of squatting, little reason exists to prefer sitting to squatting from a purely objective standpoint. Furthermore, to demand your hosts provide you with a chair because you are not accustomed to squatting is similar to demanding they feed you the foods you grew up eating instead of their local fare. A traveler must expect to adapt herself to local customs when such customs are not above normal human ability and are no less ethical than the traveler’s own practices. In regards to squatting, this example leads to a second ethical precept for human movement.

Precept 2:

A human being should be able enjoy a meal or use the toilet while squatting instead of sitting.


A human being should be able to maintain a comfortable resting squat position for at least ten minutes.

Page 1 2Next »
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)
Printable Version

We Are Scouting Top Writers

Are you passionate about fitness and have something to say? Reach a huge online community and get the discussion going - start writing for Tabata Times today!

Share this post
@TabataTimes on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook 

Contribute to this story by commenting below:

Most Popular of All Time

@TabataTimes on Twitter

Watch the latest episode of GPTV