Essential Fitness Abilities For Self-Defense 1

5 Essential Fitness Abilities for Self-Defense

Want to survive your next street brawl or the zombie apocalypse? Work on developing these 5 essential fitness abilities.

Essential Fitness Ability #1: Cardio

This first rule of fitness as it relates to self-defense is the same as the first rule of zombie survival. Now, in all fairness, I hate running and I don’t know how many martial arts instructors I have had tell me that the reason they started taking martial arts was so they would not have to run. 

While this sounds cool in theory, the reality is that the best solution to most situations is to beat feet in the opposite direction. So learn to run.



How do you train cardio for self-defense? Well, unless there is an usually high probability that you will need to defend yourself on a paddleboard or from the comfort of your hand-carved canoe, there really is no reason to row for cardio training. Instead, the most practical solution is running.  

An easy way to implement this into your training is with five sets of five sprints. Just pick a distance and get there as quickly as you can, rest and repeat. Every five sprints take a longer rest before your next set of five. Once every two weeks swap out one of the sprint sessions for a long run or ruck.

Essential Fitness Ability #2: Tumbling

The second essential fitness ability for self-defense is tumbling. 

You don’t necessarily need to learn how to do backflips or anything crazy, but you should take the time to learn how to fall, roll and get off the ground because self-defense situations rarely arise in the perfect environment and it is highly likely that you will slip, trip or be thrown to the ground. 

Many styles of martial arts incorporate this training into their systems.

Another option is to find a gymnast who is willing to teach you or a stunt man like Awake and Alive contributor Anthony Eisenhower. You could also search sites like Groupon for discounts on tumbling, judo, jujitsu, or gymnastics classes, as it is likely that you would learn everything you need to in the first few sessions of training anyway.

If you took some basic Parkour classes you could probably take care of attributes one and two simultaneously.

To incorporate tumbling into your training just use rolling, somersaults and break falls as part of your warm-up. You do not normally need to be super scientific about this.

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Essential Fitness Ability #3: Strength

The third essential fitness ability for self-defense is strength. “Strength is a master skill.” I don’t know who said it first, but plenty of people and businesses have built their entire brand around it, and for good reason.

Strength will make everything else better. It will make running easier, falling easier, punching, kicking, grappling, and fighting back easier. If strength is so important, why is it number three of the attributes? Many will argue that it should not be, but here is the deal: one and two improve your chances of survival and your ability to evade.

Strength, on the other hand, is important for two reasons: first, if you look like a hard target you are less likely to be targeted and second, in situations where evasion is not an initial option you need to be strong enough to fight off your attacker(s).

There are many ways you could incorporate strength training into your personal program. Much has been written on it and a lot of what you should do depends on what you know how to do already. Trying to quantify it in this article would oversimplify it.

A good place to start would be pull-ups or a row variation, squats of some sort, pushups (done correctly) and a hinging pattern such as swings of some sort. The tool does not really matter as much as the technique and movement. Again, this is just a starting point and you should look around this site for a more ideas on how to get fit and strong.

Essential Fitness Ability #4: Breathing

The fourth essential fitness ability for self-defense is breathing. Breathing is something that is essential to all athletic endeavors, fitness and life in general.

In self-defense it is important because adrenaline is bound to kick in and breath is a way to control it. Breathing will make you stronger and help you last longer in an extended conflict.  Breathing is not sexy, but it is important to practice. This is why breathing drills can be found in almost all martial arts, firearms training and combat sports.

To get started breathing simply start. Work on breathing deeply into your belly and slowing your breath. There are many different ways to breathe, but simply slowing the breath and breathing deeply into the belly are great ways to start. There are many ways to incorporate breathing into your training.

You could do it between sets or exercises during your strength training, between sprints, during your long runs, after your training, before going to sleep, or even first thing in the morning before you get out of bed. Another great way is to try to breath exclusively in and out of your nose while you do your sets at the gym. 

That will work your cardio and train that deep belly breathing at the same time. When boxing or in a fight, mouth breathing can cause shortening of the breath and elevate your flight or fight response, so learning to breath through your nose is essential for remaining calm.

“Breathing through the nose calms the central nervous system and instantly relaxes the entire body.”

Essential Fitness Ability #5: Fortitude

The fifth essential fitness ability is mental fortitude. In a self-defense situation you won’t have much if any time to think, so you need to develop the mental fortitude to commit to defending yourself. Chances are you are going to get injured, more than likely you will get tired, and inevitably there will be pain.

You are also probably going to have to hurt someone, possibly severely. The conflict is not the time to make this decision. The time to make a decision like this is long before and remind yourself of it daily.

How do you develop mental fortitude? Simply by doing things that make you uncomfortable. When running, run faster than is comfortable. Run farther than you want. Push yourself in your training. Lift more than is easy.

Essentially you have to train to push yourself further and get really comfortable with being uncomfortable. The big disclaimer here is that you need to be safe and every training session should not be a war-zone.

You do, however, need to do hard work regularly, just not all the time. You should also be safe. Injuring yourself in training does nothing to help you defend yourself.  Ultimately you have to learn how to cultivate a type A personality that is willing to go through objects when necessary and not around them.

Develop these essential fitness abilities and you’ll be sure to survive everything that comes your way.

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Ben Green

Ben Green

Ben Green has studied martial arts since he was a teenager, was a tactical athlete trainer while in the US Army, has held multiple kettlebell and fitness-related certifications and is currently a kettlebell instructor at Tao Health & Fitness in Austin,

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