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(Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision for Gillette/AP Images)

By George Zener

The fight-or-flight response is “a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival.” Lots of people who are reading this article likely have plenty of training to ready themselves for a fight.

Many People of the Gun have spent hundreds of hours sending many thousands of rounds downrange. Many of us have practiced our draw until it is butter smooth. We have pored over scenarios and given careful thought to how we might react in a fight.

What most of us have not done, however, is to prepare ourselves for flight. How do we break contact and run away? How do we win in the face of brain-melting fear that arises from a sudden attack?

Before we begin, I have two disclaimers to share. The first is that this article is NOT for experienced martial artists, Navy SEALS, high speed low drag operators, or even LEOs. If you are one of those fine folks then you can spend the next few minutes flexing in front of a mirror. This advice is for ordinary people who, like me, want to be able survive an attack without the use of ballistics, if at all possible.

The second caveat is that you should see a doctor. The drills that I am going to recommend are pretty intense. If your heart isn’t up for this, you need to try something else that’s more appropriate for you.

Breaking Contact

People who want to steal your wallet, your girlfriend, or your life don’t generally announce themselves from a distance. If your situational awareness is switched off for whatever reason (as in buried in your phone) then attackers prefer to get up close and personal.

If you want to run or even draw your weapon, you’ll need to be able to break contact and get some separation. At that point, your adrenaline will spike and your brain will turn to mush. You’ll lose fine motor skill. That weekend self defense seminar that you took? Gone. The Jason Bourne-like elbow strikes you always imagined yourself throwing, but never quite had the time to learn? Good luck.

Unless you train regularly, your arsenal is going to be limited to some very basic actions. One of the most basic and instinctive is to push the threat away from you.

The only time that I have been attacked on the street was when I was out running in the early morning. I was in the UK so I had no weapons. Three youths stepped out of the shadows, blocked the sidewalk, and tried to grab me. I have had some martial arts training and still hit the heavy bag regularly.

However, the best that my fear-addled brain could come up with at the time was a hard stiff arm to the chest of the closest attacker. That was enough to break his grip and give me about two feet of space. I was able to generate enough power to do that because I still had forward momentum and because I do lots of push-ups.

The push up is one of the best upper body exercises you can do. There is a good reason that your old, polyester shorts-wearing football coach used to make you do so many of them. They simultaneously build both striking power and core stability. Do at least some push-ups daily (or, if you’re middle-aged and out of shape like me, start with every other day).

Set a goal number of total push ups and try to get there by the end of the day. Start at 50 and work your way up from there. You can do this during the course of a workout or bit by bit throughout the day.

Once you can do 25 in one set, substitute some clap (or plyometric) push ups. This is where you push off the ground with enough explosive power to allow you to clap your hands together and recover in time to prevent an embarrassing face plant.


Pro tip #1 – Do this on a mat or soft carpet the first few times.

Pro tip #2 – Wear your holster with an UNLOADED weapon. After you finish a set, spring up, draw, and dry fire (again, make sure your gun is clear and your muzzle is pointed in a safe direction). Over time, this will build a reservoir of strength that you can call on if needed.

Running for Your Life

In the story above, I didn’t stop with a strike to the chest of my attacker. I ran like a scared little girl. I had no weapons and, as I am not an action hero, stood no chance against three attackers. I would like to say that this reaction was the product of careful thought, scenario planning and a review of all available tactical options at the time. But if I said that, I would be a lying POS.

I ran because I was scared for my life. There were no other considered actions in those circumstances…only a reaction. Fortunately for me, I can run really fast so these guys didn’t catch me.

Even in middle age, you can train yourself to run fairly fast for a short amount of time. Try the following training program. All you need is a stopwatch and the great outdoors.

➢ Warm up and stretch thoroughly.
➢ Run like you are being chased for 30 seconds.
➢ Walk at an easy pace until your heart rate comes back down out of the stratosphere. Your walking time will be a function of your beginning fitness level. Start out with 60 seconds and see how it goes.
➢ Repeat until you are too tired to sprint anymore.

Stress Shooting

Running isn’t always an option. Maybe there’s nowhere to go. Maybe your family is with you. How do you fight effectively when adrenaline turns your mind into Jell-O and your hands into flippers? Practice, practice, practice.

The first step is to train regularly, which most readers of this blog already do (right?). Drawing your weapon, acquiring a sight picture, and putting rounds on your target needs to be instinctive. That comes with repetition.

However, an actual fight is nothing like a visit to the range. Try the following drill to simulate your body’s reaction to a stressful encounter.

➢ Do some arm circles to warm up your shoulders.
➢ Set your loaded gun on the shooting bench in front of you with the muzzle pointed down range.
➢ Drop down and do enough push ups to elevate your heart rate and make your shoulders burn with lactic acid (make sure the range safety officer knows what you’re doing).
➢ Spring up as fast as you can, snatch the gun off the bench, and try to put a fast double tap on target.

You will find that getting a good sight picture and a controlled trigger press when you’re breathing hard and your is heart pounding is very difficult. The first time I tried it I was so amped that I pulled the trigger when I picked up the gun. While this was no big deal (thank you, four rules of gun safety) it let me know how just a little bit of stress will mess with your mechanics.

You will learn fast, though. It didn’t take too many times through this drill before I was putting out accurate fire.

Pro tip #1 – Try this drill with an unloaded gun a few times before using live ammo.

Pro tip #2 – People are going to look at you funny. Own it.

For bonus points, try doing the push ups on your knuckles. It will make your hands feel like you just threw a few punches and will make getting a good firing grip even more difficult. That’s good practice.


These are just a few of many things that you can do to prepare yourself for a hyper-stressful personal defense situation. No matter the training program that you choose to follow, make sure that it has elements that make breaking contact, running away, and shooting under stress as key components.

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