The Warrior Within: A SelfDefenseInspired Workout

By Nicole Radziszewski |

Self-defense is about much more than being a lithe ninja. To stand your ground against an attacker, you need a combination of strength, agility, power, speed, balance, and anaerobic endurance. Self-defense, at its core, is a test of tactical fitness.

That’s why ancient self-defense practices and martial arts have inspired numerous modern workouts. Rooted in disciplines such as judo, jujitsu, Krav Maga, and Muay Thai — but often billed generally as kickboxing or cardiobox — they torch fat and build functional fitness.

“Being able to move in different directions and planes challenges your brain and coordination and keeps you prepared for anything,” says Krav Maga expert Jarrett Arthur. “It also mixes things up to keep you motivated and help prevent boredom.”

If this isn’t enough to spark your interest, the mental benefits of kicking and punching your way through workouts might. Consistently training in this manner can help you feel strong — and confident.

“When you’re able to express your body in powerful ways, you’re going to feel more powerful. You literally are more powerful. When you realize you can kick, punch, and move quickly, you have confidence in your body and trust your body more,” Arthur explains. “This becomes more of a way of life than just how you feel at the end of a workout.”

She believes this “way of life” is actually what our bodies are meant to experience as humans. “We’re meant to be explosive, to be strong,” says Arthur, who created the following workout with business partner and fellow Krav Maga expert Jennie Trower.

“This type of workout is a way to really feel the relationship you have with your body and tap into fundamental movements we were born with to help us survive.”


Before starting this workout, perform five to 10 minutes of dynamic, full-body movement such as planks and inchworms. Foam-roll tight areas of your body as needed.

The Workout

Perform these exercises as a circuit, completing one set of each in succession until you complete all six moves. Repeat the circuit three to five times, resting 60 to 90 seconds between rounds.


Improves core power as well as hip extension and strength through rotation.

  1. Perform 12 reps. Switch sides.

Make it easier: Don’t lower your hands all the way to the ground.Make it harder: Hold a medicine ball or dumbbell.

Back Lunge With Kick

Improves single-leg stability and balance, as well as explosiveness through the lower body.

  1. Perform 12 reps. Switch sides.

Make it easier: Substitute a full lunge with a step back, slightly bending your back knee as you step.Make it harder: Perform a lunge jump, switching legs between each kick.

Plank and Elbow Jab

Strengthens your core, builds shoulder stability, and improves rotation through your thoracic spine.

  1. Repeat, this time lifting the right hand. Alternate sides for a total of 12 reps.

Make it easier: Perform this exercise on your knees, forming a straight line from your knees to the top of your head.Make it harder: Keep your feet together.

Leg Sweep

Challenges your mobility, core strength, and shoulder and hip stability.

  1. Perform 12 reps. Switch sides.

Make it easier: After sweeping your leg forward, allow your foot to rest on the ground (instead of keeping it elevated) before bringing your knee back to the starting position. Also try placing your resting hand on a slightly elevated surface, such as a yoga block.Make it harder: Instead of dropping your knee to the ground between reps, extend your leg all the way backward, tapping only your foot on the ground.

180-Degree Squat Jump

Improves lower-body strength and power, while training you to become more agile during explosive movements.

  1. Alternate sides, each time returning to face forward, for a total of 12 jumps (six per side).

Make it easier: Perform a 90-degree jump to one side or substitute with a squat and a pivot.

Hip Bridge With Front Kick

Trains you to generate power while extending your hips, a building block of many sports and important for everyday movement.

  1. Perform 12 reps. Switch sides.

Make it easier: Reset between each rep, allowing your back to briefly rest on the ground.Make it harder: Keep your elbows off the ground.

Illustrations by Kveta

Getting up and down from the ground quickly is an important functional movement for self-defense and for life. Also, this is a full-body move that provides great metabolic benefits. Step one foot at a time backward and then forward instead of jumping. Add a jump each time you come to standing.As you tire, this finisher exercise recruits your biggest muscle groups and challenges you to eke out one last bout of work. sprint intervals, jump rope, or row. 

Expert Answers: Training Logs to Try

A Legacy of Her Own: Laila Ali