Strength (Video): The "Fearsome Four" Leg Exercise Series

Dick Moss, Editor, Physical Education

The Fearsome Four is the nickname I use for a series of exercises that strengthen the legs in four directions of movement. As a result, it's an excellent way to improve performance and reduce injuries for any sport involving running.

These exercises are performed on one leg, without external support. It's important that the body remain upright and square and the hips stay level while they are performed. As a result, the exercises also develop the core muscles, which must activate in order to maintain an upright body position. Balance on one leg is improved - vital in running sports - and the exercises are very specific to running, in which only one foot is ever in contact with the ground.

I like to the Fearsome Four after practices, as an injury prevention and strengthening routine, and also as a way to stimulate recuperative hormones for better workout recovery.

You can perform the Fearsome Four using stretch cords or the low pulley machine at the gym. Here are the exercises:

 1. High Knee Drives
1. High Knee Drives
 2. Hip Abductions
2. Hip Abductions
 3. Hip Extensions
3. Hip Extensions
 4. Hip Adductions
4. Hip Adductions

  • High Knee Drives (Hip Flexors & Quads)
    Attach one end of the tube low on a post or pole, with the other end wrapped around your ankle. Move forward so there is tension in the tube, then while standing on one leg, drive the other upward with a bent knee. The knee should lift until the thigh is at least parallel with the ground. This exercise mimics the high knee action used when sprinting.
  • Hip Abductions (Gluteus Medius & Minimus)
    Turn sideways so the leg attached to the stretch cord is farthest from the post. With straight legs and firm upper body, pull the leg sideways. Develops the gluteus medius muscles which maintain level hips for optimal running technique and injury prevention.
  • Hip Extensions (Glutes, Hamstrings, Quads)
    Turn to face the post. Straighten the leg forward and move back until you feel tension in the stretch cord. Then, pull the leg backward as far as possible, using a running action with the arms. Strengthens the glutes and hamstring muscles. Develops the pulling/pushing action used in good running mechanics -- from leg extension backwards to foot contact and beyond.
  • Hip Adductions (Inner Thigh)
    Turn so the attached leg is closest to the post. Pull the straightened leg sideways away from the post. Develops the inner thigh -- important for balanced strength of the muscles around the knee for correct kneecap tracking and prevention of knee injuries.


  • These exercises develop functional strength using a posture and one-legged stance that is highly specific to running. As a result, they are extremely efficient in developing strength and preventing injuries.
  • They can be performed anywhere there is something to attach the cords to. And they can be completed very quickly. Students move from one exercise to the next by simply rotating their position by 90 degrees.
To see a demonstration of the
Fearsome Four exercise series, watch the video below:

Dick Moss, Editor, PE, 2020. He is also the head coach of Track North Athletic Club and the Laurentian University track and cross-country teams.

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