Know Your Physical Limits To Self-Defense

Matthew in his old gym.

There are numerous reasons why you might not want to, or simply cannot, shoot your attacker.

Just some of these reasons are as follows: Maybe your gun has had a catastrophic failure–even the most reliable of guns can break at inopportune times. Or, maybe it's not good because there are people beyond your target and you don't want to put them in danger.

Then again, maybe you were caught off guard and cannot get to your gun and must immediately defend yourself, physically, so you can get to your gun.

Whatever the reason, after working in and for the gun industry for a while and being around countless shooters of all skill levels, I can say with absolute certainty that there is a massive elephant on one side of the room, and an 800 pound gorilla on the other side.

The elephant in the room stands for the fact that most of us way overestimate our skills as shooters. The gorilla, is that most of us would have our butts kicked if we couldn't rely on our shoddy marksmanship skills.

Finally, most of us rely on our guns way too much thinking it's some sort of magical device that will automatically save our lives simply because it's tucked into our waistband. This time around I'm not going to be talking about how bad of a shot we really are (I'm included in that, too, because we could all use work), instead, this time, it's about our physical ability and knowing our limitations.


Because you might just need to fight your way out of whatever mess you find yourself in, just to stay alive.

If it came to that, could you fight effectively?

Now I want to come right out here, early on, and say that I'm rarely ever the most fit person in the room. The fact that I'm not the most fit person makes this a hard article for me to write, on one hand. Yet, on the other hand, it makes it easier because I'm in the same boat you're in.

The only difference is that I know my limits. (More on this below)

I don't know you and I can say that you most likely overestimate your own abilities. You overestimate your accuracy with a gun, your ability to fight, your ability to get out of harms way if forced to, etc.

This isn't meant to be an insult, just to help point you in the right direction. Heck I overestimate myself all the time.

To know our limits, we must have a solid understanding of ourselves, inside and out.

Injuries and other stuff

We're all working through our own stuff both physically and mentally. That is, unless you're the specimen for the human species.

For example, I've got a recurring shoulder injury and a knee that reminds me every so often that I've torn it up in the past. My knee isn't my main issue, but my shoulder is. Because of this I have a really hard time working on upper body strength.

Even the PT exercises have opened it back up because it's apparently a degenerative problem. In layman's terms, the ball of my shoulder has gotten smaller over time and is loose inside the socket. Because it moves so much more than it should and is painful in itself, my rotator cuff works overtime and gives me a secondary issue that is inflammation and immobility.

We've all got stuff going on and we should all have at least a rough understanding of what we are capable of.

So back to me, I know that my shoulder is a massive weak point in my ability to fight off an attacker so I end up saving its strength until it's needed. I now do all overhead tasks with my other arm.

That way it's there, ready-enough, should I need it. This brings us directly to our next point —

Know your limits, but be prepared to work through them

The main takeaway is that you need to have some sort of understanding of what your limits are and be prepared to work through them if it hits the fan while you're there.

This doesn't mean you should guess what your limits are. Find out by DOING things to push yourself.

You actually need to figure it out. To know your limits means that you've got to get to a point where you can learn yourself on a greater level.

What type of scenario might you find yourself in? If it's a fight where you've got a problem with your gun or you cannot get to your gun for whatever reason, you should have an understanding of how long you'll last in an all out fight for your life.

If you're a lumpy sack of potatoes with an eating disorder this is going to be a wake up call. Set up a timer and a punching bag if you have one, or just all-out spar with the air for a bit. See how long you can go until you can't go any longer.

Little love taps won't get the job done. Hit that thing like your life depends on it. Because one day, it might depend on what you learn.

Or, what if you find yourself in an active terror situation where you've got to sprint away from falling buildings or mass attack, or riots, or carrying a loved one to safety, or something else just to live. How long and how far can you sprint?

If you're winded when you go up a flight of stairs your body may end up writing a check your gun might not be able to cash.

Fix yourself

Try to do whatever you can to up any of the skills you can while you're able to.

If you've got injuries, there is only so much you can do to fix yourself. But whatever you can do now to help yourself later is going to be a good thing.

If you're like me and have shoulder issues, lifting weights is clearly not going to work. I can't do a single push-up with my shoulder the way it is. But, walking up and down the stairs in my house helps me build up stamina.

Doing core exercises to strengthen my back and stomach are also good. Much can be achieved with a strong core.

Find out what you can do, by just searching the internet if needed, and do it. Build your strength because that is a part of self-defense, just as much as going to the range and shooting is.


But hey, who am I to offer you this advice? I'm just some dude. At the end of the day, if you ever find yourself in a scenario where you need to defend yourself, it's your fight … not mine. Listen or not.

Me? I'll keep doing all I can to stay ready.

About Joshua Gillem

Josh is a lifelong practitioner and student of the gun. He grew up shooting/hunting with his dad, and was given his first gun, a 12 gauge shotgun, when just a small boy. After high school, he joined the Marines where his love for firearms blossomed as he qualified with an M16A2, an M9, and a 240G. Josh has been writing about firearms and tactics for several years, owns the blog Gunners Den, is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment, and believes that each individual person has the right to self-defense by any means necessary. Currently residing in gun-friendly NC, he carries a concealed gun on a daily basis, even in his own house.


  1. Wes on September 15, 2020 at 6:50 am

    Great article!!!!

  2. Thomas A. Timmes on September 16, 2020 at 12:52 pm

    That was one of you great article.

  3. Deborah Ann Miles on September 16, 2020 at 2:07 pm

    Very helpful article. I fall into the category of “Well I have a gun so I am ok”. I will start building up my core tomorrow. Thanks so much!

  4. Anne Galivan on September 16, 2020 at 2:19 pm

    Try being a 5 foot tall woman. And petite to boot. Without a gun I’d need some handy tricks to fight off an attacker (working on that). The main thing I do is stay out of situations where I might be in danger. I don’t go hiking in the forest alone, for example. I stay aware of my surroundings. I don’t live in fear, but I do live aware. My guess is, it’s more likely that men overestimate their abilities. Most women know that without some equalizing force (like a gun) we are very much at risk of becoming a victim of sexual assault and conduct ourselves accordingly.

    • Joshua Gillem on September 16, 2020 at 2:54 pm

      Anne, thank you for this. As a man I don’t fully understand all ladies have to think about.


      • bob on September 17, 2020 at 10:49 pm

        Hi Josh,

        You’re speaking to me with the shoulder thing, but both my shoulders are bad. During the CV-19 shutdown, I couldn’t go to the health club, so I thought I’d do some exercises at home. My mind was saying I was still 20 years old, but my body reminded me that I’m 67. I tried to do push-ups between chairs and ended up trashing both my shoulders, but I remembered something I tried years ago when I was having problems in one of my arms. Go find yourself some quality proteolytic enzymes. I use a product from Doctors Best, but there are others, such as Wobenzyme, but Wobenzyme is really pricey. Doctors Best is a fourth the price and they work just as good. I bought the D.B. product on Amazon. Take them on an empty stomach before you go to bed. It may take a while, but it usually works on injuries like shoulders. I include the enzymes Bromelain and papaya too, and take that at the same time. Just make sure that the potency is listed on the bottle. The papaya I use is chew-able. I have recommended this to other people, and they’ve told me how well it has worked for them too. IMHO, this works better than the pain killers prescribed by my doctor.

    • Timothy Barker on January 8, 2021 at 2:01 am

      Same same am not the man I was in Vietnam at 22 years old need to take better care of one self

  5. WhoCares on September 16, 2020 at 2:32 pm

    Remember. If you must use your gun. To defend yourself. Family.
    NEVER. NEVER talk to the police. Until you have a lawyer with you.
    And the right kind of lawyer.
    Just say. I was in fear for my life. I want a lawyer.
    And the right kind of lawyer. Then shut up.

  6. Kknechg on September 16, 2020 at 2:32 pm

    I have a recurring issue with my right wrist,not constant but daily tasks can leave me swollen.i need to learn how to shoot at least fairly well left handed….soon

  7. Rick554 on September 16, 2020 at 5:07 pm

    Excellent article. Thanks. Myself, when my dog and I go for walks, it feels like going out to “walk the wire”! I make a point to practice situational awareness, and then practice some more! But with pepper spray, a 9 mm and Rebel the Dog, we have some options. And physically practicing is a Good Idea too! Stay Safe All and Stay Aware!!

  8. John D. Larsen on September 16, 2020 at 11:04 pm

    64 yoa male. Your article was a slap in the face on every point. I know that I should get back into better condition but I keep using the …I’m 64 and tired/lazy and hurt excuses.

    • bob on September 17, 2020 at 10:57 pm

      Hi John,

      Find something you like to do, and do that. We are responsible for our own health. Have you tried walking? I love to walk, you can do it ’till you turn into a fossil, and after a while it becomes a habit. I committed to walking years ago, and ended up really enjoying my walks. It gives you time to sort things out, and besides being a healthy thing to do, it relaxes and de-stresses you. You can’t stop the downward slide, but you can slow it down. Good luck.

  9. Gary on September 20, 2020 at 9:00 am

    Great article on what I should be doing. Years ago I was in good shape from work and exercising at home but now at almost 73 in 1 1/2 months life is different. Your article made me realize more than I forgot about staying in some sort of shape. Two bad knees and a bad left shoulder makes it a little difficult plus smoke too much.

  10. richard pfeifer on September 25, 2020 at 2:55 pm

    a very good article for this 73 yr. old man with a bad back ! as a former college athlete , High School Basketball Coach , I am very aware of my physical limitations . For me I always try to be aware of my surroundings and to understand the fight or flight scenario ! With the way things are going on I did purchase a Handgun and registered on your site to learn as much as I can and to be informed and better educated about safety and hand guns , Thank You for this information !!

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