Protect yourself (and feel empowered) with these essential safety tips and maneuvers.

Think you could defend yourself if you were ever attacked? Just because you might be able to handle the toughest of workout classes doesn't necessarily mean you know how to protect yourself. But you absolutely should. 

"Not only does basic self-defense knowledge make you safer and increase your chance of surviving a violent assault, it also contributes to feelings of confidence and personal power," says Jarrett Arthur, self-defense expert in New York City and co-owner of Jarrett and Jennie Self-Defense.

While it's easy to think about obvious situations where you might be attacked, there are those that aren't so obvious, namely when you're in your car. Women have a tendency to get into their car and sit while they check messages—a habit that can actually spell trouble. "If a predator is watching you, this is the perfect opportunity for that person to get in the passenger side, [threaten you], and tell you where to go," says Teri Jory, PhD, fourth degree black belt and creator of DFWM (aka Don't F*** With Me) Self Defense Training and Poise Productions. That's why as soon as you get in the car, as a matter of habit you should immediately lock the doors and leave.

Basic Self Defense Moves Every Woman Should Know: woman demonstrating
Credit: Getty Images

Prevention Can Be the Best Protection

Self defense actually starts before needing to react to the worst case scenario—with self-awareness and preventive strategies. The first step is paying attention to your surroundings, Jory says. That means only walking and parking in well-lit areas. Keep your keys (with whistle or spray, if you desire) easily accessible as you approach your car or front door. 

If you're at a party, stick with friends, and if you've left a drink out of sight even for a few seconds, get a new one. "Spiking a drink with a date rape drug can happen quickly," Jory says. When going on a date, tell family or friends where you're going, especially if this is a first date or blind date. If somebody pushes you to do something you don't want to do, know that you have a right to leave. And of course, charge your cell phone and keep it and a charger on you.  

It's OK to Make a Scene

The second part of prevention involves sounding the alarm. If somebody's in your face or you're in a situation where you're unsafe or uncomfortable, yell "back off" or simply scream. "You're trying to get other people's attention and let the predator know you're not an easy target," Jory says.

If ever you're in a situation like this, it's time to go into escape mode—you want to do whatever is necessary to get away and survive. And remember: "Know that you can escape even against somebody bigger or stronger than you," Jory says. Here's what to keep in mind.

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Know the most vulnerable areas (yours and theirs).

Accomplishing this requires some knowledge about vulnerable areas. For starters, the areas most vulnerable to attack are those that affect seeing and breathing, so the eyes, nose, mouth, and throat. You're also more vulnerable on the ground versus standing. Although ending up on the ground during an assault is a real possibility, remaining on your feet should be a priority, Arthur says.

Meanwhile, areas of an attacker's body that are most vulnerable include not only the eyes, nose and throat, but also the groin. "Effective striking to these areas is most likely to slow, stun, or stop an attacker long enough to get away," Arthur says.  

4 Basic Self-Defense Moves Everyone Should Know

Fortunately, you don't have to have a black belt in karate to learn how to defend yourself. Just practice these four self-defense moves at home frequently so you'll feel confident using them if you're confronted.

4 Basic Self-Defense Moves: ready stance, palm-heel strike, front kick to groin, hammerfist punch
Credit: Yeji Kim
Self-Defense Moves to Know: Ready Stance
Credit: Yeji Kim

1 Ready Stance

When to use it:  Use this from a distance as a way of setting a strong body-language boundary (like if somebody's following you) or when you're engaged in sending physical strikes, Arthur says.

How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, hands by sides. Keeping toes pointed forward, take a natural step forward with your non-dominant leg so feet are staggered. Bend both knees slightly, elevate back heel, bring hands up in front of face with hands about 12 inches from face and palms facing forward, tuck chin, and shrug shoulders slightly. Distribute body weight between both feet, placing it more in the balls versus heels.

Basic Self-Defense Moves to Know: Palm-Heel Strike
Credit: Yeji Kim

2 Palm-Heel Strike

When to use it: This is a last-resort move to create escape opportunities. "It's best used when the face of the attacker isn't blocked or covered, and you can reach the face with your arms outstretched," Arthur says. 

How to do it: Start in Ready Stance and keep hands up. Rotating left hip and shoulder, explosively extend left palm straight out, with fingertips straight up and elbow down. Keep right hand up to protect your face. Immediately recoil left arm, returning shoulder and hip to square ready stance. With feet in the same position, send a palm strike with your right hand (be sure to rotate right hip), then try a left-right combination. If left-handed, practice a right-left combination. Hand should stay open (i.e., don't make a fist) and heel of palm should make contact with the attacker's nose.

Basic Self-Defense Moves to Know: Front Kick to Groin
Credit: Yeji Kim

3 Front Kick to Groin

When to use it: This is another last-resort move to create escape opportunities. It's particularly beneficial against somebody who's tall, Arthur says, especially if you can't reach their face for Palm-Heel Strikes. 

How to do it: Start in Ready Stance, keeping hands up. Bend right leg and drive right knee straight up. As soon as right knee is above your waistline, extend hips (almost bend backward to generate power in the left leg/your loading leg) and kick right shin directly to attacker's groin, making sure to keep toes pointed downward and out of the way. Immediately release right foot behind you and return to Ready Stance.

Basic Self-Defense Moves to Know: Hammerfist Punch
Credit: Yeji Kim

4 Hammerfist Punch

When to use it: Rely on the Hammerfist Punch move in almost any situation where you find yourself in danger, Jory says. It's most effective, though, when used to hit the attacker directly in the face, particularly the nose, jaw, or temple.

How to do it:  Start in Ready Stance. Raise dominant hand up, bending at elbow (like you're preparing to throw a ball). Rotate hips toward attacker and bring dominant arm down, smacking attacker in face (aim for the nose) with the meaty bottom part of fist. If you're practicing this move, recoil to Ready Stance and repeat. In a real-world scenario, strike the punch and run while attacker is incapacitated.