How to Do a Curtsy Lunge to Build Your Booty

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.

Curtsey Lunge
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If you're dreaming of a strong and powerful booty, weighted squats — in every variation imaginable — might make up the bulk of your lower-body training routine. And while those moves will surely help your glutes grow, you shouldn't overlook other butt-strengthening exercises. And that includes the curtsy lunge.

Ahead, learn all the benefits of performing the curtsy lunge, including but not limited to its ability to build your entire butt and improve your daily functioning. Plus, find out how to do the exercise with proper form and incorporate it into your routine so you can start spicing up your lower-body workouts, stat.

How to Do a Curtsy Lunge

A leveled-up variation of a classic reverse lunge, a curtsy lunge involves stepping one foot back and crossing it behind your standing leg, then lowering your body down a few inches toward the floor by bending both knees — just like you’re doing a curtsy, says Antonia Henry, M.Sc., R.Y.T., a NASM-certified personal trainer and pregnancy and postpartum athleticism coach. “I would definitely call the curtsy lunge more of an intermediate to advanced move,” she adds. “I wouldn’t necessarily program it for beginners, because there is a good bit of coordination and balance that you need to do this.”

For a better understanding of what the curtsy lunge entails, watch Henry demonstrate the lower-body exercise below. While she alternates between sides throughout her set, you can also do all your reps on one leg before switching to the opposite leg, she says.

A. Stand with feet hip- or shoulder-width apart, hands clasped in front of chest. Engage core and draw shoulders down and back.

B. Keeping weight in right foot and hips square, take a big step back with left leg, crossing it behind right leg. Left knee should be in line with or to the right of right foot.

C. Slowly bend knees and lower down until right thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees are bent at roughly 90-degree angles. Gently tap left knee to floor (optional).

D. Push through right heel to rise out of the lunge and bring left foot back next to right, returning to the starting 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

For those new to the world of exercise science, a plane of motion is essentially a way to describe the direction your body is moving in space. Reverse lunges, for instance, take place in the sagittal plane of motion, as you’re moving your body forward and backward. Many of your major movement patterns (think: squatting, hinging, pushing, and pulling) take place in the sagittal plane of motion, but your body doesn’t only move forward and backward IRL. 

And that’s why the curtsy lunge can be beneficial. The exercise involves a twisting movement below your waist and consequently challenges your body in the transverse plane of motion, says Henry. By practicing this movement pattern in the gym, you’ll be better equipped to perform it — and do so safely — in your everyday life, as Shape previously reported. For example, you might need to quickly step one foot back behind the other to catch your balance on a lurching subway car. And if you’ve incorporated the curtsy lunge into your fitness routine, you may be more likely to stay upright — and thus injury-free. 

Spotlights and Corrects Muscle Imbalances

A unilateral exercise, the curtsy lunge works just one side of your body at a time — a feature that can help keep your body balanced. ICYDK, it’s normal for one side of your body to be slightly stronger than the other, but serious muscle imbalances can cause movement compensations that ultimately lead to injury, as Shape previously reported. If your right leg is notably stronger than your left, for instance, your weaker leg’s technique may falter early on in a set of, say, back squats. And any slip-ups can compromise joint positioning and ultimately up your risk of injury. However, training your legs individually, such as by performing curtsy lunges, can help you note any major strength discrepancies and make strides to restore your muscular balance. 

Curtsy Lunge Muscles Worked

The curtsy lunge primarily targets the quadriceps, a group of muscles that runs along the front of the thighs and play an important role in flexing the hip, moving and stabilizing the kneecap, and regulating your gait, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Plus, “one of the great things about a curtsy lunge is that it targets your gluteus medius [a smaller glute muscle on the side of your butt that helps to externally rotate the hip] more than most other lunge exercises,” says Henry. “Your glute medius is responsible for hip stability and hip neutrality when your feet are on the ground.” Since the move also calls on your gluteus maximus (the biggest glute muscle that extends your hip) and gluteus minimus (the smallest glute muscle that abducts your leg and rotates it inward), “it’s perfect for people who are invested in making a well-rounded bottom,” says Henry. 

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

Struggling to stay upright and balanced as you step your foot backward? Try the Bulgarian split squat, which involves placing one foot on top of a bench behind your body and slowly lowering in and out of a lunge, suggests Henry. “[In a Bulgarian split squat,] you have a lot more stability than you do in other backward lunge variations,” she explains. Plus, your front knee will be put under a similar amount of pressure as it would during a curtsy lunge, helping to prep your joints for the exercise, she notes.

You can also turn to a traditional reverse lunge, which will help you nail down the backward movement and improve your balance until you’re comfortable enough to work in the transverse plane of motion, says Henry. 

Progression: Front Foot-Elevated Curtsy Lunge

Once the curtsy lunge feels like a piece of cake, level up the exercise by holding a light dumbbell or kettlebell in front of your chest or a pair of light weights at your sides, suggests Henry. You can also elevate your front foot by placing it on a yoga block (on the shortest side), a book, or a weight plate, a tweak that will allow you to increase the depth of your lunge and thus increase the work required of your muscles, says Henry. “I’d use a two- to four-inch platform,” she advises. “If you’re using a yoga block that’s too high for you, don’t worry about going all the way down to the ground with your back knee — just go down two or three inches.” 

Common Curtsy Lunge Mistakes

As you power through your set of curtsy lunges, remember to keep your toes and knees pointed in the same direction, recommends Henry. “A lot of times, a person’s back leg will go too far out to the side, and they’ll end up super-twisted and their toes will point forward and their knee will point inward,” she explains. This technique slip-up can put additional stress on your knees, she adds. “It doesn’t matter which way you’re pointed as long as your toes and knees are tracking in the same direction,” says Henry. 

How far you lower into your lunge also matters. You should aim to bend your knees to at least a 90-degree angle, and you can also gently tap your back knee on the ground at the bottom of the movement. That said, “you definitely don’t want to be resting the knee on the ground,” says Henry. “When you [do that], you’re taking out part of the muscular tension that you’re building through the movement.” In turn, you may not get all the strength-building benefits the curtsy lunge has to offer.

And remember, bigger isn't always better. You only need to step your back leg out to the side enough that your back knee is in line with your front foot or a few inches outside it. There's no need to sweep it out far like you would during a round of speed skaters.

How to Add the Curtsy Lunge to Your Routine

Before you swap your traditional lunges for the curtsy variation, it’s smart to get clearance from your healthcare provider if you have dealt with a knee injury, surgery, or other concerns, as the move puts additional stress on the joint, says Henry. 

Once you’re given the green light, place the curtsy lunge at the top of your strength-training workout and aim to complete two to three sets of eight to 10 challenging reps, suggests Henry. “Because it does have a higher coordination and technical requirement, I wouldn’t put it at the very end of a workout when you’ll already be really fatigued and tired.” If you’re looking to get your heart rate up, you can also incorporate bodyweight curtsy lunges into a circuit workout, she suggests. 

Thanks to the transverse movement and hip stability benefits, athletes — runners, volleyball and soccer players, and folks participating in sports that require agility — can particularly benefit from practicing the curtsy lunge on the reg, says Henry. But even if you're not a star athlete, the exercise is worth your while. “The curtsy lunge is definitely one of my favorite moves to program if someone doesn’t have any equipment available,” she adds. “It’s a more difficult movement and you get a lot of bang for your buck.”

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