Best Self Defense for Runners: Top Moves

Runners, especially female runners, are not always safe when running, especially when we run before sunrise. Taking steps to increase safety such as running with others and staying alert help. However, the best defense for runners is knowing self-defense moves. I am sharing the best self-defense moves to save you from various attacks from former pro fighter Terry Bullman. Study these and practice to stay safe.

The kidnapping and murder of mother runner Liza Fletcher has rocked the mother runner and running communities. I want to do all I can to enhance runner safety so we can do this thing that we love and makes us better—including sharing self defense for runners tips.

Self-defense for runners is one of the best ways to stay safe while running.

I asked Terry Bullman, an ex-pro fighter and creator of the History Channel’s Human Weapon series, to host a free self-defense for runners class at Bullfit gym. The turnout was huge. With only two days’ notice, on a Friday night, about a hundred women packed the gym.

Terry Bullman demonstrates how runners can get out of a choke holds.

On one side of the state of Tennessee where I live, Liza Fletcher lost her life. On the other side, another female runner was kidnapped and almost raped while running at 7 a.m. in a safe area not far from where I live. It’s clear women runners know that we are in danger when we hit the roads—especially in the morning which is when most of us (particularly moms) have time to run.

Related: The Best GPS Tracking Devices for Runners

My experience with the self defense for runners class

At the self-defense for runners class, I took notes and videos to share (see below under each self-defense move) what we learned with those who could not be there. But this comes with a big caveat. Taking one class or reading one article is not going to make you much safer. (You can view highlights of self-defense moves from a 10-week class I took here).

These self-defense for runners moves must become instinctive. They take thought and coordination, and most do not come naturally—especially in the heat of the moment. Therefore, I highly urge you to take a series of self-defense classes.

Related: Top Runner Safety Tips for Female Runners

My hope with this self-defense for runners article is that I share some knowledge that heightens your vigilance when running and gives you a starting point for amplifying your running safety.

Let’s hope we never have to use these self defense for runners tips.

How do runners defend themselves?

The best way for runners to defend themselves is to:

  • Stay alert
  • Run with others
  • Run in the daytime
  • Run in safe areas
  • Stay away from traffic
  • Wear visible clothing
  • Carry personal safety items
  • Be trackable via GPS
  • Carry their phones, and
  • Learn self-defense

What are some key runner safety tips?

Practice OODA to stay safe. This stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. This is useful advice for running, walking to your car, and being in any public place.

  • Observe: Always be aware of your surroundings. Don’t zone out listening to your headphones or staring at your phone. Constantly be scanning the areas around you.
  • Orient: Know where things are around you, including exits.
  • Decide: If there is a threat, decide what you want to do. Do you want to comply with what they want? Do you think they are going to hurt you?
  • Act: Then act. Acting is better than reacting. If your gut is telling you this person is a threat, then create pain and RUN!

Related: Morning Running Tips

What do attackers look for in a victim?

Attackers and kidnappers look for an easy target. What makes you an easy target:

Pin these self-defense for runners tips for later.
  • Not paying attention. If you are on your phone, searching through your purse, or have earbuds in, then you aren’t aware of your surroundings and easier to attack.
  • Ponytails. They are easy to grab and trap someone. Consider a bun or lower ponytail. If your ponytail is grabbed, turn into it and hit the groin.
  • Easily removable clothes. Attackers look for clothes that can be easily taken off so they can sexually assault you.

Also, something to note which is terrifying is kidnappers and human traffickers look for mothers and daughters because they can then threaten one or the other to get compliance.

What should you do if you think someone is following you?

Carry yourself with a strong stance. Look at them and talk to them while you continue to walk briskly to safety such as a public place or store. Be ballsy. This sends the signal you are not an easy target. Then, call 911.

Related: Winter Running Tips: How to Survive Running in the Cold and Dark

What should you do if you think someone is going to attack you?

If your gut tells you someone is a threat to your safety, then you need to trust your gut and act first. Depending on the threat level you can:

  • Go into a ready stance with your dominant leg behind you and arms up near your face and tell the person to back away.
  • Ask them what they want, then decide if you want to comply. Do they just want your stuff? Do they want to sexually assault you? You may decide that giving them what they want could save your life. Whatever you do, do not go to a secondary location. Your risk of survival is as low as 5 percent if you are taken someplace else, says Bullman.
  • Create pain first with an eye gouge then follow with a hammer strike or groin kick and then run.

You want to ACT rather than react. If your gut says someone is about to hurt you, you hurt them first.

What are the best personal safety items for runners?

Some best self-defense weapons for female runners include:

  1. Mace or pepper spray or bear spray
  2. Lipstick taser
  3. Defender Ring
  4. Tigerlady Tiger Claw
  5. Birdie alarm
  6. Go Guardedweapons
  7. Push knife
  8. Run angel
  9. GPS tracking devices including apps, watches, and air tag.

Get a full list of personal safety item options here.

What is the best self-defense weapon for women runners?

According to Bullman, a push knife in a sheath or bear spray are the best personal safety devices a runner can use.

Is it safe to run alone in the morning?

It can be safe to run alone in the morning but it is better to run in a group or wait until daylight. Still, running alone in the morning in the dark is unavoidable for many runners, especially mother runners.

Therefore, it’s important to follow these safety tips and self defense for runners tips to protect yourself.

This demonstrates how to get out of a bear hold. Watch the rest of the self-defense demos on my YouTube channel.

How do you defend yourself in an attack?

Here are three key self-defense for runners moves:

Eye Gouge

  • If someone is coming at you, hold your nondominant open hand up at 45 degrees and strike towards their face.
  • No matter where you land, your fingers will slide into the eye.
  • Now that they are blinded, it is time to create pain, then run.

See how to do an eye gouge here.

Hammer Strike

  • After the eye gouge, use your dominant hand to thrust it down on your attacker’s face like you were hammering something.
  • Ideally, you will be holding something hard or sharp when you do this. I like to run with my Defender ringon the outside of my pinky so that I can injure the attacker while collecting DNA.

See how to do an eye gouge and then hammer fist here.

Groin Strike

  • Next, after the eye gouge or hammer strike, it’s time to kick them in the groin.
  • Pointing your toes down, aim for the A-frame between the legs. You don’t need good aim. Your foot will slide up the leg and hit them in the private.
  • This will paralyze your attacker so now it is time to RUN!

See how to do a groin kick here featuring yours truly.

How do I escape an attacker?

Here’s how to escape the most common holds.

Escape a wrist hold by:

  • By moving your elbow to their elbow
  • And then turn against their thumb.
  • Now run!

See how to escape a wrist hold here.

Escape a chokehold by:

  • Putting your arm straight up
  • Twisting your body into your attacker,
  • Then elbowing them or face-palming in the face (with your palm, jab up toward your attacker’s nose or under their chin at the throat).
  • Run!

See how to escape a choke hold.  

Escape a bear hold from behind by:

  • Bringing your base low by squatting
  • Move your hips to the side to create space
  • Then kick them in the groin.
  • Run!

See how to escape a bear hold.

While we think most people will fight or flight—most people actually freeze, says Bullman. He notes that in most videos of shootings, people are unresponsive because their brain can’t comprehend what is happening. Don’t let this happen to you.

Practice these moves so that they become second nature. I’ve already signed up for a self-defense class for runners so that they can for me. You can find one near you by searching “self-defense classes near me.”

Knowing this could save not just my life, but my kids’, was a pretty powerful motivator.

If you want guidance with your training, check out my run coaching services. Also, be sure to check out my free training plans:

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