Stay strong, confident, and safe with these expert tips
"Personal safety is about choices and circumstance," says Don Seiler, owner of Kodokan-Seiler Dojo in Minnesota and author of Karate Do: Traditional Training for All Styles. "And while you can't always control the latter, you certainly can control the former. You need to have a complete personal protection strategy and embed that into your lifestyle so it simply becomes habit."
Other self-defense experts agree. "Knowledge is power. You will have more confidence if you know where and how to strike if you need to defend yourself," says Robert Fletcher, MMA strength and conditioning coach and founder of America's Next Great Trainer.
To help you come up with a personal protection strategy of your own, our experts offer their best advice, complete with must-know moves to pull out of any threatening situation.
"Pay attention to your surroundings at all times," Fletcher says. "Not a paranoid fear, but a healthy awareness." Seiler agrees, adding that "criminals pick out their victims. They're looking for someone who is distracted, doesn't make eye contact, has a posture of weakness, and has visible valuables."
While it's never your fault if you are the victim of a violent crime, you can reduce your risk by staying engaged and vigilant, Seiler says. He recommends practicing "what if" scenarios.
"Look around you and think 'What would I do right now if someone were following me?' and then make sure you're equipped to carry out your plans."
More expert tips: Keep your cell phone ready (but don't be texting or talking on it), carry a purse with a body strap to keep your hands free, know where your keys are before you get to your car, and keep a pair of flats in your purse so you don't have to run in heels.
According to Seiler, one of the best, and most overlooked, self-defense strategies is to "stay close to people paid to protect you, like security guards, police officers, and bouncers. When you arrive somewhere, briefly engage them with a simple greeting and a smile to establish rapport."
Dan Blustin, a 15-year veteran bouncer, agrees. "Even a small interaction helps me remember you, and I'll be more likely to keep an eye out for you." The most common mistake he sees women make? Leaving their drink unattended or accepting a drink from someone they don't know, he says.
Girlfriends are good for more than just telling you there's toilet paper stuck to your skirt or that a cute guy is checking you out.
"Your friends can be a great resource to keep you safe," Seiler says, who suggests facing each other when you speak so you can double your field of vision. Also, make sure you establish your schedule with your friends before you go out so they know when to expect you—and when to worry if you don't show.
"Project confidence, strength, and energy," Fletcher says. "This is vitally important, not only in a potential self-defense situation, but in life."
"If something happens, you need to have already decided what you are going to do," Seiler says. "Go back to your what-if plan and act quickly and decisively." Remember: Criminals are usually looking for easy victims, and they will avoid those with a confident posture, calm demeanor, and direct stare.
"It's always better to avoid a confrontation if at all possible," Seiler says. "Do whatever it takes to get out of a bad situation before it turns to a fight."
Fletcher advises women to pay attention to their gut. "Trust your instincts. If something doesn't look right or feel right, trust that feeling!" Don't ignore warning signs, Seiler adds. "Don't be afraid of looking 'mean' or 'rude' or 'dumb'—just get out of there."
If a physical conflict is unavoidable, don't give up! Next, our experts share five must-know moves to combat the most common types of physical assault.
If someone grabs you from the front, begin by twisting your hips away from them rather than pulling backwards. This will pull them slightly off balance and put you in a better position for the next move.
Next, grab under their jaw and squeeze as hard as you can. "Even a child can squeeze hard enough to dislodge someone's trachea," Seiler says. He recommends this defense over the popular kick to the groin because while that method inflicts pain, it doesn't always incapacitate an attacker. "But if he can't breathe, he will certainly let go," he says.
If someone grabs you from behind, your instinct will likely be to fight to pull away, but most women won't have the height or strength to get away from an attacker this way, Seiler says. Instead, he advises grabbing one or two fingers of the attacker's hand and pulling sharply away and down. "It's incredibly painful and they'll loosen their grip."
Another option is to bite their arm and then rotate sideways towards the attacker. This way, you can slip out when they move their arm.
If someone grabs you by your arm, turn your thumb towards your body, bend your elbow, and turn away quickly from them to break their grip. This is a good one to practice so you don't have to think in a crisis.
Getting assaulted from above—the worst-case scenario for many of us—is harder to escape, but there is still a lot you can do to fight back, Seiler says. "If you have one or both hands free, squeeze their throat or gouge their eyes. But make sure you do it like you mean it. If you're going to fight, you need to go 100 percent."
If your arms are pinned, Seiler says, you have the option of feigning compliance or creating a distraction—"kick, scream, bite, spit, whatever you can do"—and then waiting for an opportunity to get your hands free.
Another combat move that works well in many situations, Fletcher says, is a spear hand with either a palm strike to their nose (the nose is extremely sensitive and will also cause tears to blur their vision) or gouging their eyes.
The most important tool in any fight is the one most often overlooked, Seiler says. "The ability to control your fear and calm your body will allow you to think clearly."
Soldiers, police officers, firemen, and others who may encounter combat in their daily life are taught a technique called "combat breathing" to help overcome their panic instinct. "It's simple to do," Seiler says. "Take in a short inhale through your nose followed by a long exhale. This will slow your heart rate and engage your parasympathetic nervous system, helping you to work through fear."
He adds that this is best practiced when you're not under stress so that it will be automatic when you need it.
"Get in the habit of practicing good, strong posture," Fletcher says. "Keep your head up, shoulders back, and walk 'strong.' This will send a message to a potential attacker that you may not be as easy a target, and that there is a greater chance of resistance—and that is exactly what they don't want!"
Seiler suggests practicing the simple yoga posture mountain pose. Stand in a comfortable hip-width stance with hands at your sides and palms forward. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and as you exhale, roll your shoulders up, back, and then down.
"A strong core is essential to every self-defense move," Seiler says. Strengthen your midsection with simple plank exercises that work your entire core, unlike sit-ups or crunches that only engage a few muscles and aren't functional movements.
Click here to see some of our favorite plank variations. You can add a few into your existing routine or combine all seven into one killer abs workout.
Building your balance can help you stay on your feet when you're being pushed or pulled, even if you're surprised. Enhance yours by practicing tree pose: Shift your weight onto your left leg. Draw your right knee into your chest, grab your ankle, and press the bottom of your right foot onto your left thigh. If you feel wobbly keep your hand on your ankle while it’s pressed into your thigh.
If you’re finding your balance really easily, reach your arms straight up or press your palms together in front of your chest. If this is challenging in an overwhelming way, place your toes on the ground and rest your foot onto your ankle. Press your palms together in front of your chest. Stay here for ten long, deep breaths. Come back to standing for ten long, deep breaths and try the same thing on the other side.