Physical Fitness and Self Defense - S2 Strategic Defense
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Physical Fitness and Self Defense

S2 Strategic Defense Physical Fitness for Tactical Operations

03 Oct Physical Fitness and Self Defense

A common question I get from clients (mostly from the civilian sector) is about physical fitness and self defense. Actually, it really isn’t a question but more like a complaint that embodies phrases such as:

“I can’t do this because of my _________,” or

“This is too hard for me, I can’t keep up _________”,

And my all time favorite, “I bought a gun, why would I need this?”

It is almost comical to hear statements like this because they revolve around someone’s fitness levels and their mindsets.  I mention the mindset because if they are attempting an easy drill and still complaining about it being difficult and giving up, I am not convinced that if they had to fight for their lives they would rise to the occasion. I also point out the mindset because if they mention that they have a firearm, what they are missing is the part that they STILL have fight with that firearm and it will STILL be physically demanding, mind you that they feel that the firearm/weapon will do all of the work. I am yet to see a self defense situation that didn’t require physical exertion on command.

I don’t expect anyone to be the next professional tri-athlete, and I certainly don’t want someone to agitate an injury for the sake of training. However, those things cannot become the excuse for the lack of proper physical conditioning or a healthier lifestyle. When it comes to the world of self defense/combat, physical fitness is a critical element for many reasons. In the short run, the better condition you are in physically the better you will perform ANY task. That includes hand to hand combat, defensive firearms, edged weapons, escape/run, climb, squat, push/pull or anything else you can imagine.


Cardiovascular: A lesson I learned thru my time in martial arts in sparring areas such as striking, weaponry, or ground fighting is that your “wind” is the first thing to diminish. It almost became a strategy in sportive competition to allow your opponent to gas themselves out then unleash on them. No matter how strong, fast, skilled they were if they couldn’t last more than a few seconds they were screwed. Additionally, it is scientifically proven that stress and combat stress have a rapid and adverse on your cadiovascular system. Stress will promote hyperventilating, cause panic attacks, inhibit the ability bring in enough oxygen, cause higher blood pressure among many other negative factors.

Knowing that, let’s change the scenario to a real world attack in which stress levels spike and cause auditory exclusion, tunnel-vision, and diminished dexterity in the hands and fingers. Suddenly we begin to see that “having a gun” doesn’t do you much good, and the attacker doesn’t care if you tell them that you cannot keep up with them or have a previous injury.


Muscular: I look at muscular health in two parts. The first is Muscular Strength and the other is Muscular Endurance.  Muscular Strength is focused on being able to exert a high level of muscular effort in a short period of time, whereas Muscular Endurance focuses on being able to exert muscular effort repeatedly over a length of time. Although both are important, I feel that in the realm of self defense Muscular Endurance is more important, and we need to plan to be in the fight for longer periods of time. I have also found that by focusing on muscular endurance also begins to condition muscular strength as well, just not to the same degree. I also find that muscular strength focused training can also hinder a bit of mobility if done in the traditional way of heavy resistance/less reps method.

That being said, we cannot ignore Muscular Strength training either. The development of muscle mass is a GOOD thing, and helps with weight loss, muscular endurance, and provides for the development of twitch muscle fiber used in explosive movements such as punching, kicking, etc.


Joint Health: In discussing joint health, I am referring to mobility and range of motion. Mobility is always key in self defense as it puts you in the fight, out of the fight, and around the fight.  Range of Motion in the knees, hips, and elbows is important in striking, grappling, weaponry and directly related to mobility. Will you need to run behind cover and squat down in order to avoid gunfire? Have you been tackled and trying to get back to your feet? Are you stuck in traffic when an attacker with road rage gets out of their car and starts to make a swift walk toward you?  All of these situations will place a command on your joint health, and your entire physical fitness capabilities.


“I Need To Get In Shape Before Taking A Self Defense Class.”  Nothing can be further from the truth than this statement!  Getting into a self defense class (at least any good one) will help you develop and condition your body for combative measure. You add the additional fitness routine to enhance your self defense capacity which you’ve learned thru the classes. In nearly 20 years of teaching self defense courses, I can’t tell you how many people I have met that look like fitness models (male and female) and cannot perform basic tasks related to self defense. Conversely, I have also met plenty of great “technicians” that wouldn’t last more than 10 seconds in a fight.

Here’s a few key exercises to help you get started:

  • Light running or speed walking for a mile.
  • Squats (with or without weight)
  • Burpees or Squat to Push Up variant.
  • Push Ups
  • Sit Ups
  • Trunk Rotations
  • Kettlebell 2 Hand Swings
  • Kettlebell Half Get Ups
  • Kettlebell Forward and Lateral Lunges
  • Deadlifts
  • Isometric Stretching
  • Heavy Bag workouts or Shadowboxing

These basic exercises are very beneficial to your health as well as your self defense capabilities. The key is to take your time and focus on proper execution and not simply rapid/explosive movements (especially with weights or kettlebells). Start slow with zero or little weight. Be consistent in your training frequency and aim for 3x per week. Mix these in with your self defense training.


If you are serious about your self preservation skills, then you need to be serious about your physical health as well. No magic pills here….just hard work!


Be Safe, Be Well-


Nik Farooqui




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