This article addresses the need to get yourself in shape so you can survive an armed or unarmed deadly force encounter. You will not find specific exercises to develop your strength or aerobic capacity. Rather, you will read about why getting in shape is important and how it can help you survive a deadly force encounter. You will also find some resources to help you become bigger, faster, stronger, and healthier.
Getting Bigger, Faster, Stronger, and Healthier
Armed or unarmed self-defense requires physical strength and the aerobic capacity to “stay in the fight.” Although strength and aerobic conditioning can improve your odds of surviving a gun fight, most deadly force encounters with a handgun don’t last long and some only last a few seconds. However, if you have to move quickly to find concealment or cover then strength and aerobic conditioning become very important.
Strength and aerobic capacity will definitely help you survive unarmed combat. Unarmed combat where you are physically engaging an attacker with your fists, kicks, or by taking the person to the ground using Jiu Jitsu techniques will exhaust your physical energy quickly. Increasing your stamina will help you stay in the fight. Developing your strength will help you win the fight.
Another benefit of improving your strength and aerobic capacity is that it can help you develop mental toughness. Engaging in a strength and aerobic capacity-building program can give you a mental edge when faced with a deadly force situation.
Professional fighters and those who engage in competitive martial arts know that conditioning is a “weapon.” A well-conditioned person who remains calm, cool and collected can confuse an attacker because he or she is expecting you to be in a panic mode.
Confusing your attacker gives you a tactical advantage as noted by Sun Tzu in The Art of War: “The whole secret lies in confusing the enemy, so that he cannot fathom our real intent.” The attacker’s temporary confusion gives you an opportunity to strike first and the person who strikes first often wins the fight.
Conditioning Helps Control the Effects of Severe Stress
Our bodies have a dual-function nervous system: the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The figure below illustrates Hans Selye’s model of how our nervous system functions in reaction to high-stress situations.
According to the model, when faced with a high-stress situation the body moves through four phases of nervous system response: Phase 1—Alarm; Phase 2—Fight or Flight; Phase 3—Exhaustion; and Phase 4—Return to Normal (if you survive). From reading accounts of deadly force encounters we learned that another possible Phase 2 response is to “freeze”—to mentally and emotionally shut-down. If you freeze when faced with a deadly force encounter you will die.
Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)
The parasympathetic nervous system is dominant in non-stress situations. The PNS supports tasks requiring fine motor skills, maximum visual input, and fast information processing (decision-making).
Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)
The Sympathetic Nervous System is triggered when faced with significant threats (Phase 1). The SNS triggers behaviors commonly called, freeze, flight, or fight (Phase 2). Your body will be exhausted whether you flee or fight (Phase 3). If you survive a deadly force encounter your normal stress levels (SNS) will return to normal (Phase 4).
Anytime the brain perceives a dangerous threat to physical safety the SNS is engaged and signals are sent to the brain. The signals go to the amygdala–that part of the brain that facilitates decision-making and the regulation of emotions. The amygdala then informs the hypothalamus about what’s happening. The hypothalamus controls hormone production.
The SNS then starts to dump adrenaline into the body. The hypothalamus produces a corticotropin-releasing hormone that results in the body producing cortisol.
Cortisol, epinephrine (a.k.a., adrenaline) and other chemicals flood the bloodstream and flow throughout the body. The cortisol plugs into almost every cell in the body and results in an increase in blood sugar. Epinephrine makes the heart pound which increases oxygen to the major muscles, and with that, you are primed to flee or fight.
The blood vessels in your hands, fingers, and toes are restricted so that more blood can be pumped into your large muscles which builds physical strength. The pupils dilate which reduces visual acuity. Near vision and depth perception are severely distorted. Peripheral vision is reduced by up to 70% thereby creating tunnel vision. Information processing and decision-making abilities are negatively affected.
If you decide to fight instead of flee when faced with a deadly threat the predictable and unavoidable effects of the sympathetic nervous system put you at a significant disadvantage if you do not have the mental and physical preparation to deal with the threat. You are at a disadvantage because your visual acuity, fine motor skills, and information-processing and decision-making abilities are negatively affected.
These uncontrollable physical responses to severe stress can be minimized but not eliminated by developing significant self-confidence in your ability to defend yourself by engaging in strength and cardio training, combat-focused self-defense training, and firearms training.
Mark Rippetoe, a famous strength trainer once said “Stronger people are harder to kill….” In our words, a stronger fighter is a better fighter.
Strength training makes it easier to move your body weight for longer periods which means your stamina increases. Stamina is particularly important in unarmed combat where you have to physically engage an attacker.
Strength training also increases muscle mass and increases bone density. Larger muscles and denser bones provide you with an armored body structure that can withstand physical assaults. Strength and stamina give you a significant edge in a deadly force situation.
If you are serious about preparing yourself to survive an armed or unarmed deadly force attack we strongly recommend Westminster Strength and Conditioning run by Beau Bryant and his wife Angie Sloan Bryant. Beau and Angie have been helping hundreds of people including martial artists, military men and women, and athletes to enhance their physical strength and aerobic capacity. Their training facility is in Westminster, Maryland. Their website is http://www.westminsterstrength.com/.
Beau has been a Starting Strength Coach since 2010. He spent several years as a strength coach for the U.S. Military serving as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and as a USAW weightlifting coach before opening Westminster Strength and Conditioning in 2010. Angie is a practicing Physician Assistant, a Starting Strength Coach, and a professor in the Exercise Science department at McDaniel College where she teaches Sports Nutrition and Strength Training.
Another outstanding strength and conditioning program is run by Kelly Scott Johnson in Fulton, Maryland. Her program is called ForeverStrong Personalized Fitness Program. Her website is found at https://trainforeverstrong.com/
Kelly’s program is based on a combination of weight training using kettle bells and aerobic conditioning. The ForeverStrong Personalized Fitness Program includes everything you need to see real results from an exercise program. The ForeverStrong Method includes full body strength training, high intensity finishing exercises, and functional movement training.
(Remember, before you start a combat conditioning program get a clearance from your primary care doctor. You don’t want to die while trying to get in shape.)
Combat-focused self-defense training, if it’s from a high quality program, will help you develop the techniques, mobility, flexibility, and cardio to survive unarmed physical attacks. We strongly recommend Brazilian Gracie Jiu Jitsu for combat-focused self-defense training.
Mike and Jordan Stewart run the best Gracie Jiu Jitsu program in Maryland. Their program comes under the leadership and guidance of Relson Gracie. They have three locations: Columbia, Finksburg, and Severna Park, Maryland. Their website is found at http://www.realjiujitsu.com/#1.
Combat Conditioning and Cardio Training
The cardio-respiratory system includes the heart, lungs and circulatory system. This system experiences significant stress when faced with a deadly force encounter. That level of stress requires an increase in cardio-respiratory capacity if you want to survive.
Although you can develop your aerobic capacity on your own by running, jogging, skipping rope, and so on, we unequivocally recommend that you work with a professional strength and conditioning coach like Beau and Angie Bryant at Westminster Strength and Conditioning when you first start training so you can learn how to train effectively using proper techniques.
Combat Conditioning and Weight Training
The second component of combat conditioning is the muscular skeletal system. Strengthening your bones and muscles to withstand the rigors of hand to hand combat is important because strength increases your chances of surviving. Strength can be increased through a combat conditioning program that includes progressive resistance through weight training combined with calisthenics.
Combat conditioning requires weight lifting on a regular basis. Lifting weights serves two major purposes for effective combat conditioning: it’s the only effective way to become strong and it strengthens the body to survive the physical demands of hand to hand combat.
Strength training also benefits your firearms handling skills because your handgun requires your body’s structural frame to function properly. A strong structural frame can help you manipulate the handgun more effectively and to shoot more accurately under stressful conditions.
Combat Conditioning and Proper Body Composition
The final component of combat conditioning is healthy body composition. Body composition is the relative proportions of protein, fat, water, and mineral components in the body. It is calculated by measuring total body fat and fat-free body mass that includes muscle, water and bone.
Body composition varies among individuals because of differences in body density and degree of obesity. Healthy adult males have 6% to 24% fat while healthy adult females have between 14% and 31% fat. Your level or percentage of body fat will be significantly affected by your diet and training regimen.
A sensible and consistent combat conditioning program accompanied with a healthy and balanced diet will facilitate proper body composition. Don’t neglect this important aspect of combat conditioning. Beau and Angie Bryant from Westminster Strength and Conditioning can also help you create a nutrition program to improve your body composition
Training to survive an armed or unarmed deadly encounter is like buying home owner’s insurance. You buy the insurance with the hope that you will never need to use it but if you do need it you have it. In the same way you train to survive a deadly force encounter with the hope that you will never need to use the training but if that terrible day ever comes you will be prepared.
Please don’t be naïve. There are evil people in this world who would hurt or kill you or your family without remorse. Get bigger, faster, stronger, and healthier…get firearms training…get combat-focused self-defense training. Train to win, don’t train to die.