Get Fit for the Flight


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.” The 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.

What most of us have not done 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, or even LEOs. If you are one of these 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.

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

Breaking Contact

People who want to steal your wallet, your girlfriend, your life, etc. don’t generally announce themselves from a distance. If your situational awareness is switched off for whatever reason (I’m looking at you, Twitter) then they prefer to get up close and personal.

If you want to run or draw your weapon, then you need to break contact and get some separation. At that point, your adrenaline will spike and your brain will turn to mush. That weekend self defense seminar that you took? Gone. The Jason Bourne-like elbow strikes that 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 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 was a hard stiff arm to the chest of the closest attacker. This was enough to break his grip and give me about two feet of space. I was able to generate enough power to do this because I still had forward momentum and because I do lots and lots of push-ups.

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

Set a number of total push ups and try to get there by the end of the day. Start at 100 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. Over time, this will build a reservoir of strength that you can call on when 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 ran like a frightened deer. 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 scenario planning and a review of all available tactical options. If I said this, I would be a lying POS.

I ran because I was scared for my life. There were no considered actions – only a reaction. Fortunately for me, I can run really fast so these guys did not catch me.

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

➢ Warm up 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 fitness level. Start out with 60 seconds and see how it goes.
➢ Repeat until you are too tired to sprint anymore

Stress Shooting

Running is not always an option. Maybe there is nowhere to go. Maybe your family is with you. How do you fight effectively when adrenaline has turned your mind into jello and your hands into flippers? Practice practice practice.

The first step is to train regularly; which most readers of this blog already do. Drawing your weapon, acquiring a sight picture, and putting rounds on target needs to be instinctive. 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 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.
➢ 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 is very difficult. The first time that I tried it I was so amped that I pressed 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 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.


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


  1. avatar Aaron says:

    not a bad list.

    you should consider adding deadlifts and pullups.

    and practice drawing and point shooting

    1. avatar Art out West says:

      He does make some great suggestions. I’ll have to give them a try. You mentioned adding deadlifts. Practicing draw and dry fire after doing deadlifts or squats might be a great idea. I feel a bit “trembly” after doing a hard set of deads or squats.

      I also need to add the sprinting exercise for a bit of high intensity cardio. The only cardio I do are biking and jump rope. The article also talks a lot about pushups. I only do each weight training movement one day a week. Monday, its benchpress, overhead press, and squats. Tuesday’s are chin-up day. Wednesday is for pushups. Thursday is deadlift day, and Friday is pull-up time. Monday’s are rough.

      I didn’t start lifting until I was about forty. Several years later, and I love it. Now, in my 40s, I’m in the best shape of my life.

    2. avatar Adam says:

      In general, everyone should just powerlift. Getting good at squat, bench, deadlift, and overhead press will give you strength that is superior to most of the general population considering that “average” is now obese. Throw in a little bit of cardio and dry fire practice and you’re good to go.

  2. avatar TheOtherDavid says:

    I’ll do things like this during a dry-fire practice at home – some pushups, some squats, and then access the firearm and do dry-fire with a thought toward combat accuracy only. Pieplate groups within realistic self defense ranges. And when I do live fire at the range, I start with dry-fire before picking up an unloaded firearm from the table, loading, and firing. Our range, like many, does not allow for presentation from a holster, nor does it allow loaded handguns to be placed on the table. And there’s nothing wrong with practicing loading techniques while ramped up a bit.

    I like how Mike Janich and Mike Seeklander on “The Best Defense” phrase it – you need to “earn your draw” and having a basic idea of how to push off/shove off / strike / get some distance, before executing a draw stroke, is something we all need to think about.

    I think it was a writer here years ago talking about fitness who pointed out that we’re more likely to have a heart attack or be hit by a car than to be involved in a DGU so don’t forget to be careful and active in everyday life. Thanks for providing some tips, a real-life experience, and a reminder that we need to have a bit more “doing” and a little less “reading about doing” sometimes.

  3. avatar TOP says:

    Sounds like great advice. Thank you.

  4. avatar Ed Rogers says:

    I prefer bench press to push ups but they certainly will do. I’ve also been doing fartleks, when my gumption isn’t up for a good solid run.

    People my age are well-served by being physically fit. It ain’t easy, sometimes…

  5. avatar DrewN says:

    At least Uncle paid me to bust my ass. I’m retired now, I’ll stick with the 12oz curls. Hopefully one of you sheepdogs will save me if I ever need it, but I’ll be going with with age and treachery.

    1. avatar TheOtherDavid says:

      You don’t want to waste any but a 12 oz can be a weapon of opportunity in a bar fight…

      1. avatar New Continental Army says:

        Shake it up first!

  6. avatar New Continental Army says:

    This is pretty good stuff. I’d add in rifle PT. Never seems like it’s that hard when you see another platoon doing it. Then yours does it, and it seems like it just doesn’t end…

  7. avatar JD says:

    One of the better articles on here as of late. I do similar type exercise/shooting drills. Having my own range allows me to do so. However, I doubt most on this board train regularly. All you have to do is read a few of the comments for most articles to remove any doubt.

  8. avatar Craig in IA says:

    I’m 65 and run a 5.5 mile course with my GSP almost every day, winter included. Keeps me in decent shape, I can still ski the advanced slopes and the blood flow every day keeps the mind thinking. While I carry every day as well, I’d much rather just run off if confronted by some thug- the paperwork would be a bitch if I even cleared the holster on someone and usually they wouldn’t be worth it if I could just hoof it off- I think I could likely outrun most cretins with knives, clubs, etc. If my wife or friends were with me it would be another matter, however.

    Jeff Cooper always thought everyone should have to run for their lives at least 3 times. I wonder in this chickafied society how many of us have even done it once. I haven’t, not yet.

    1. avatar Billy Bob says:

      I hate running, always have. At 66 I surf everyday or if the waves are no good I swim at least a k. No big deal. That’s after 2 back surgeries and a dozen others for assorted injuries. I’ve always enjoyed stuff like that. I feel for folks that never experienced how much fun it is to move a little. Really. I gotta admit it does leave me feeling a little self righteous. I’m just happy to still be alive.

    2. avatar chris says:

      This is a brilliant article, I hope it wins. I don’t hate running but I got a new hip and Doc said no more. I still do daily nordic track ski machine (Dad’s, he bought it in 1994 and I reconditioned it), and 5 days of weights (less weight, more reps). Also “hike” obstacle course races. I ran the Spartan Trifecta in 2016 before the new hip. If you want a heart raising challenge and feel your capacity, do an OCR.

  9. avatar paul says:

    Good list for sure. I’m 63 and am in the gym 5 days a week. I would add situp’s and burpee’s (I know, no one likes burpee’s). For wind, I do run-cross; 2 mile run followed by suicides, followed by running stadium stairs.

    Am doing a GoRuck tough next month and would advise everyone to push limits every day.

    1. avatar FedUp says:

      I had to Google that.
      When did the squat thrust become the burpee?

  10. avatar little horn says:

    not needed. see damn near any case of a defensive gun use.

  11. avatar MIO says:

    Being in shape and not a shape is needed regardless. Things happen in life and more often than not being in shape helps the situation.

  12. avatar strych9 says:

    Personally I go with lifting, martial arts and swimming. Destroyed my knee in my teens and twenties so no more serious running for me.

    Fortunately swimming gets it done.

  13. avatar D.B.Cooper says:

    I’ve never forgotten what the sergeant teaching hand-to-hand said in our training before departing for Vietnam. “When fighting for your life, there is no such thing as fair. The ONLY thing is winning. Biting, gouging eyes, throwing dirt or anything (to make an opponent hesitate) should be near the top of your list. There are no style points. Use anything you can to defeat your opponent.” He was so right; few perps expect someone to IMMEDIATELY try to bite their nose off or take a huge chunk out of their arm, neck, etc. Obviously, the foregoing is just another “tool in the bag” among others. THE most important thing is avoid being in “Condition white”. (Oblivious to surroundings) As we age, this becomes critically important.

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