These lower leg muscles are the key to good balance, and strengthening them will also improve your support while you're walking or running. For more movements from the Element Training program, click on the figure at left.
Exercises for Strength
Stand on one foot, then raise the standing foot's heel as high as possible, thus lifting all your weight. For a full range of motion, do this with the ball of your foot on a stair, lowering your heel past the stair on descent. Add resistance by holding a dumbell in one hand, or by pressing against the ceiling with your hands. You could also try to rise up onto only your big toe.
3-Pointed Calf Raises
Once you've pre-exhausted your calves with one-legged calf raises, try them on both legs, using one of three foot positions for each set. Point your toes outward, inward, or straight forward, enjoying the more well-rounded calf workout that this brings.
Stretches for Flexibility
Calf Stretch on Stair
Simply stand with the ball of one foot on a step, and gently let your weight come down to extend your calf.
Brace your palms or forearms against a wall at chest level, step one foot back so your stretching leg is nearly diagonal, and push your heel into the floor. Lower your body and step farther back to intensify the stretch, but try to avoid lifting your heel.
Toe-Lifting Calf Stretch
Place the ball of your foot a few inches up on a wall, with your heel on the floor a few inches away from the wall. Gently push your knee towards the wall to stretch out your calf and your Achilles' heel. You can do a similar stretch without a wall, simply by planting your heel and using your hand to pull upward on the ball of your foot.
Downward Dog Pose
This classic yoga pose also provides good shoulder isometrics. Begin in a modified Plank Pose, facing the floor with only your palms and toes touching, your arms straight under your shoulders, and your legs, torso and neck parallel. Now raise your hips to form an inverted V with your body, keeping your legs straight and bringing your torso in line with your arms. Keep your back long, tailbone tucked backward, middle fingers pointing forward and index finger pads gripping the floor. Lift up onto fingertips if you like.
Static Holds for Endurance
Balance is largely a mental skill and improves only with practice, but stronger muscles will compensate for weight shifts more smoothly and easily and thus make balancing easier. To learn better foot balance, stand on one foot, on the ball or heel of one foot, or on the big toes only, for as long as you can. You can do this anywhere and anytime, including in between or during sets of fire exercises. Close your eyes for greater difficulty. You can also stand on one foot while you tie your shoes, and during a standing quad stretch.
Tree Pose, Eagle Pose, Standing Half Lotus Pose
All of these yoga poses, among others, will help you improve your balance. To make them easier, fix your eyes on a non-moving object and imagine yourself steadied by it. To make them far more challenging, close your eyes.