How to Do a Curtsy Lunge, Plus Benefits and Variations

Practicing the curtsy lunge can help grow your glutes, fight off muscle imbalances, and keep you injury-free. Here's how to do it with perfect form.

Dreaming of a stronger, more robust booty? While weighted squats in all their variations are likely a staple in your lower-body workout routine, don't underestimate the power of other glute-strengthening exercises. One such exercise is the curtsy lunge. Discover the multiple benefits this exercise offers, not just for building an enviable derriere, but also for enhancing functionality in your day-to-day life. We'll provide you with a guide to executing this exercise with the correct form and integrating it into your regular fitness routine. Add some diversity to your lower body workouts with the curtsy lunge today.

How to Do a Curtsy Lunge

The curtsy lunge, a more advanced take on the standard reverse lunge, involves stepping one foot backwards and crossing it behind your standing leg. You then lower your body several inches towards the ground by bending both knees in a curtsy-like motion, explains Antonia Henry, M.Sc., R.Y.T., a certified personal trainer with NASM who specializes in pregnancy and postpartum athleticism. She emphasizes that the curtsy lunge is an intermediate to advanced level move due to the significant coordination and balance required. For a clear visual and better understanding of the curtsy lunge, you can observe Henry performing this lower-body exercise. Although she alternates between legs during her set, she also mentions the option to complete all the reps on one leg before switching to the other.

Position yourself with your feet spread either hip- or shoulder-width apart and your hands joined together in front of your chest. Make sure your core is engaged and your shoulders are drawn down and back.

Maintaining the weight on your right foot and keeping your hips aligned, take a large step backward with your left leg, crossing it behind the right one. Ensure that your left knee lines up with or is slightly to the right of your right foot.

Gently and slowly bend your knees, lowering your body until your right thigh is parallel to the ground and both your knees form approximately 90-degree angles. You may lightly touch your left knee to the floor if you wish.

Apply pressure on your right heel to elevate yourself out of the lunge position and bring the left foot back beside the right one, thereby returning to your initial standing position.

The Key Curtsy Lunge Benefits

Opt to mix the curtsy lunge into your training program, and you'll help your body stay strong, balanced, and injury-free.

Strengthens Multiple Muscle Groups

Like other lunge variations, the curtsy lunge is a compound exercise, meaning it trains multiple muscle groups and calls on multiple joints, says Henry. Specifically, the movement calls on all of your glute muscles (read: the gluteus maximus, gluteus minimus, and gluteus medius) and your quadriceps, she adds. In turn, a workout featuring the curtsy lunge will be more efficient than if you were to target each one of those muscle groups individually via isolation exercises. 

Trains Your Body In the Transverse Plane of Motion

In fitness terminology, a plane of motion defines the direction in which your body moves. For instance, reverse lunges occur in what is known as the sagittal plane of motion where our bodies move forwards and backwards. This covers most of our fundamental movement patterns like squatting, hinging, pushing, and pulling, all taking place within this same plane. However, life isn't as linear, and that's why exercises such as the curtsy lunge are so crucial. This particular exercise involves a twisting action below your waist, engaging your body in the transverse plane of motion, explains Henry. Incorporating this motion pattern into your regular gym routine can enhance your ability to perform this movement safely outside the gym environment, as previously reported by Shape. For instance, you might have to quickly step back with one foot behind the other to maintain balance in a suddenly jolting subway. If you've been doing curtsy lunges regularly during your workouts, chances are you'll be better equipped to stay upright, thus reducing risk of injury.

Spotlights and Corrects Muscle Imbalances

The curtsy lunge is a unilateral exercise, working only one part of your body at a time. This feature assists in maintaining a balanced physique, as it's common for one side to be slightly more powerful than the other. According to Shape, significant muscle imbalances can lead to movement adjustments which may result in injury. For instance, if your right leg is considerably stronger than your left, there might be a technique lapse in your weaker leg during a set of back squats. Such lapses could compromise joint positioning and increase your injury risk.

Nonetheless, training your legs separately, such as by doing curtsy lunges, can help you identify any major strength differences and take measures to regain your muscular balance.

Curtsy Lunge Muscles Worked

The quadriceps, a set of muscles located along the front area of your thighs, is the main focus of the curtsy lunge. These are vital in hip flexing, knee cap movement, and gait management, as pointed out by the Cleveland Clinic. Additionally, "the curtsy lunge stands out from other exercises as it emphasizes the gluteus medius more," says fitness expert Henry. The gluteus medius, a smaller butt muscle that aids in hip rotation, is responsible for hip stability and neutrality when your feet touch the ground. Considering that the exercise also works on your gluteus maximus (the largest glute muscle involved in hip extension) and gluteus minimus (the smallest glute muscle responsible for leg abduction and internal rotation), Henry includes it in his list of recommended exercises for those aiming to build a well-rounded derriere.

Curtsy Lunge Variations

The curtsy lunge may look simple, but given the balance required, it may not be suitable for fitness newbies. The good news: You can use a modification to make the move work for your needs. And once you progress to the classic curtsy lunge and feel ready to take your training up a notch, you can try a variation designed to test your lower-body muscles. 

Modification: Reverse Lunge

Stabilizing your stance during a backward foot motion can be challenging. A viable alternative would be the Bulgarian split squat as suggested by Henry. This variant involves positioning one foot on an elevated platform, like a bench, behind you and steadily transitioning into and out of a lunge position. The apparent advantage of the Bulgarian split squat is its inherent stability compared to other reverse lunge adaptations. Moreover, it exerts similar pressure on your leading knee similar to a curtsy lunge, prepping your joints for the said workout. A conventional reverse lunge could also be beneficial in mastering the backward transition while enhancing your balance. With time, you should be comfortable enough to incorporate motions in the transverse plane, according to Henry.

Progression: Front Foot-Elevated Curtsy Lunge

When the curtsy lunge exercise begins to appear less challenging, consider upgrading your routine by incorporating light kettlebells or dumbbells. These can be held either at the sides of your body or in front of your chest, advises Henry. Furthermore, increasing the height of your front foot with the help of a weight plate, book, or yoga block (on its shortest side) can significantly intensify the exercise. This minor adjustment allows for a deeper lunge, consequently demanding more from your muscle groups, highlights Henry.

"For elevation, I would recommend using a platform ranging between two to four inches," she suggests. If using a high yoga block seems difficult, it's not necessary to lower your back knee all the way to the ground - just about two or three inches downward motion would suffice.

Common Curtsy Lunge Mistakes

While performing curtsy lunges, it's crucial to align your toes and knees in the same direction, says fitness expert Henry. Often individuals may extend their back leg too wide, resulting in a twisted posture with the toes pointing forward and the knee inward. This incorrect technique can lead to unnecessary strain on the knees. The key is to ensure that your toes and knees follow the same direction, irrespective of the angle you're facing, Henry suggests. The depth of your lunge also plays a significant role. Aim for at least a 90-degree bend in your knees, touching the back knee gently to the ground during the movement. However, Henry cautions against resting the knee on the ground as it reduces the muscular tension created during the exercise, potentially diminishing its strength-building benefits. Furthermore, note that an overly exaggerated step isn't necessary. Your back leg should only extend sideways enough so that your back knee aligns with your front foot or just slightly beyond it. There's no need to make sweeping movements as if you're performing speed skaters.

How to Add the Curtsy Lunge to Your Routine

In the event of previous knee issues or surgery, it's crucial to consult your healthcare advisor before incorporating the curtsy lunge into your workout regime, as this exercise can put added strain on the knee, according to Henry. Once you've gotten the go-ahead, consider initiating your strength-training session with two to three sets of eight to 10 challenging reps of the curtsy lunge, advises Henry. As the lunge requires considerable coordination and technique, it's best not to leave it until the end of your workout when fatigue has set in. Incorporating bodyweight curtsy lunges into a circuit workout can also serve as an effective heart rate booster. Athletes, particularly those involved in sports like running, volleyball, soccer, or any other agility-demanding activities, can significantly benefit from regular practice of the curtsy lunge due to its transverse movement and hip stability advantages, states Henry. However, even non-athletes can greatly benefit from this exercise. "The curtsy lunge is certainly among my top recommendations when no equipment is available," she adds. "It’s a challenging movement that offers great value."

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