woman in black tank top and black pants walking on sidewalk during daytime
Running in a well-populated park is a great way to enjoy the outdoors safely. Photo by Jozsef Hocza

When Exercise is Unsafe: How to Protect Yourself from Being Stalked or Attacked

A staggering 84% of women have been harassed while running. According to recent findings, 30% of women reported being followed at one point by someone in a car, on a bike, or on foot. And it’s not just outdoors. According to a recent survey of approximately 1330 women, approximately 530 of those women felt sometimes when they go to the gym, they feel unsafe when working out, and another 192 women reported OFTEN feeling unsafe when they worked out. While this is a prevalent issue among those who identify as women, the discussion in this post is applicable to everyone.

Are you trying to get back into running?

I feel like this could be a cart before horse situation, so if you need to first jump over to tips to motivate you to get back into running/walking or outdoor exercise, check out my article here:

The unsafe side of solo workouts

(Disclaimer/trigger warning: the following contains graphic descriptions of criminal conduct, which includes violence, sexual assault and homicide. This content will be troubling and upsetting to some people.)

Many women, due to preference or circumstance, exercise alone. With that solitude should come peace of mind and a chance to clear our heads, but as the statistics show, clear risk. Consider these recent stories of what happened to women exercising alone:

  • Nicola Bulley was a 45-year-old mother of two young children, was walking alone with her dog in a lightly populated field in Lancashire, England. She had logged into an MS teams call that she was listening to on speaker, and never logged out. She disappeared that morning, and was pulled out of the river in the past few days. While foul play may not be involved, she was alone for a significant period of time before anyone found her phone abandoned on a bench, with her dog running loose nearby.
  • Mollie Tibbets was a 20-year old  college student at the University of Iowa, She was  caring for her boyfriend’s dogs prior to her disappearance. However, she never made it back home after going on her routine jog. A search was launched and she found five weeks later, having been abducted and killed by a total stranger who admitted to approaching her because “he found her attractive.”
  • Eliza Fletcher, an avid marathoner. never returned from a 4 a.m. training run in Sept 2022 near the University of Memphis campus. After her husband reported her missing, police began an intense search after discovering a surveillance video showing her being forced into a black SUV and abducted. Her body was found several days later near a vacant duplex, authorities said.

First of all, the fact that I have to write this article sucks. We should be able to work out whenever and wherever we want. It definitely should not matter what we are wearing, or if we are by ourselves. This is not an invitation to be catcalled or stared at aggressively.

None of these women did anything wrong – they were doing everything right for their mental and physical health. The risk of being stalked or attacked during exercising as these stories show is re

Can I solve the unfairness of this world? No, I can’t. But I can give you a few simple safety tips so that you can enjoy exercising and feel safer.

Avoid distraction

Being distracted, especially by a device that naturally takes you out of the present moment, is possibly the worst risk factors. Those white wireless headphones sticking out of your ears, or worse, that big pair of noise canceling headphones, send a clear message to strangers: I’M DISTRACTED! I CAN’T HEAR ANYONE BEHIND ME! And that’s a message you don’t want to send. https://www.justswitch.com/ae-en/paint/apple-airpods-gen-3/apple-airpods-gen-3-full-nude-matte/ Besides people, the lack of your ability to hear a bike, bird, bus, scooter, or car can seriously put your life at risk. As a DC pedestrian I know that people disobey traffic signals all the  time.

Damir Khabarov @ Adobe Stock

Here are some tips to minimize distraction:


If you are listening to music or on a call, consider listening in one ear only and wearing nude headphones, so that people can’t see them.

Another option is bone conduction headphones, which by not resting directly on top of your ears allow you to have awareness of outside noise.

Also, simply consider using headphones/ear buds less and listening to street noise and conversations. Did you know – wearing airpods for too long of a period of time can cause significant ear problems – the least of which is ear infection? Just think of how gross it is to be pushing earwax down in your ears and cutting off the air supply making fungus grow. Ew. Let your ears breathe!


If you put the audio on speaker, not only will that annoy everyone around you and the person that you are talking to, it also is a definite waving flag that you are not paying attention to your surroundings. Even if you are not looking at your phone, you still have to hold it in a way that will distract you It is much easier for someone to follow you or approach you without your realizing it if you’re distracted by your music, a podcast, or discussion.

Make sure others know you are working out

Let a colleague or someone in your household know where you are going, whether it’s hitting a yoga class or jogging around your neighborhood. Enable “share your location” with someone close to you so they can see where you are in case you unexpectedly get injured or stuck.

Another good way to help people track you is to make sure your fitbit / apps are synched so that your route is visible and that someone close to you may notice if you are stopped for a period of time or in distress.

Choose your workout times strategically

If you know that the park where you love to jog is well-populated right after work then run in the afternoon. The more people surrounding you, the better your chances of not becoming a victim of harassment or an attack. Generally, daylight hours are safer, but unfortunately plenty has happened in broad daylight, so continue to be vigilant.

Similarly, try to avoid going to the gym late at night or super early in the morning, especiallly while on foot.

If you don’t have as much choice when you work out and have to work out more in the evenings, I have included some articles with safety tips at the end of this post.

Plan your route ahead of time

Before you head out, plan your route and make sure it is well-lit and populated. Avoid secluded areas, especially at night. If you’re using a GPS device or smartphone app, share your route and expected arrival time with a trusted friend or family member.

Vary your schedule and route

Predictability is your worst enemy . Try not to go to the gym or go running at the same time every day. When you use the same route repeatedly, it becomes predictable and someone with ill intent can easily learn your routine and pattern. By varying your route, the time of the day you walk or jog,  you can make it more difficult for someone to predict your whereabouts and plan an attack.

Exercise with a partner or group

Having a workout buddy can increase safety and provide a sense of security. If you can’t find a partner, consider joining a local running or cycling group. A dog can make a great partner, but unfortunately is not a total deterrent to an attacker. (in past attacks involving women, dogs have often been found wandering around. Unfortunately, they cannot talk). 

A buddy is definitely a great idea, especially if you want to run/ bike trails or go on a long hike. Most major cities also have running groups or outdoor exercise clubs – there is safety in more numbers.

Trust your instincts

If something feels off or makes you uncomfortable, trust your instincts and remove yourself from the situation. Cross the road, or duck into a store or well lit/populated area. It could be nothing, but it is better to be on the side of being overly cautious.

Carry a personal alarm

A loud personal alarm can be a great deterrent and can be used to attract attention in an emergency. For example, this one from She’s Birdie has an alarm and strobe lights, and can be placed on a key chain. Mace/pepper sprays are also a tool, but there are significant downsides as explained in this article.

Be prepared for emergencies

Make sure your phone is charged and with you at all times. If you have any medical conditions, carry identification and necessary medications.

Does what you are wearing matter?

On principle, what women wear to work out is their business. It is victim-blaming at its worst when any observations are made about clothing that is tight, short, or colorful. News flash: Workout clothes are designed that way. And it’s not to attract attention – it’s to make us feel like superheros.

Honestly, I have struggled with this sometimes when I have been harassed, thinking maybe I was sending out a certain signal. But my research and speaking with other women helped me shake this toxic mentality. You may be surprised to know that clothing is largely irrelevant when it comes to assault statistics. People get assaulted whether they wear bikinis or sweatpants and hoodies.

I found this great video by the United Nations called What Were You Wearing?

YouTube player

In conclusion, by following these tips, women can exercise safely and confidently outdoors. It’s important to remember to always trust your instincts and be aware of your surroundings, and to never hesitate to seek help if you feel threatened. With these precautions in place, we can enjoy the many benefits of outdoor exercise without fear of being stalked or attacked.

More resources

Safety tips for running in the dark – https://www.runnersworld.com/runners-stories/a20858033/11-safety-tips-for-running-in-the-dark/

Safety tips for nighttime exercisers – https://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/fitness_articles.asp?id=965

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