Although squats, deadlifts, and lunges are considered the “kings” of leg exercises, there’s another move you shouldn’t neglect: curtsy lunges.
This exercise recruits and emphasizes muscles that are often underutilized, making it a great addition to your workout routine. Read on for the why and how.
The curtsy lunge targets the main muscles involved in a lunge — the quads and glutes — but also engages some additional movers.
When your leg crosses back and around, the gluteus medius on the stationary leg fires up. The hip abductors — which bring your thighs together — are also engaged.
The curtsy lunge is great for building lower body strength and stability.
The gluteus medius is an important muscle for stability, but it isn’t directly targeted in standard squats and lunges, so strengthening it is often overlooked.
The gluteus medius is often underactive, making strengthening exercises like the curtsy lunge even more important.
Curtsy lunges also aid in strengthening the inner thigh area.
Follow these steps to do a curtsy lunge with proper form:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms down at your sides.
- Putting your weight into your right foot, step back and around with your left foot — almost as if you’re curtsying — allowing your arms to come up in front of you to a comfortable position. Ensure that your chest stays proud. Stop lunging when your right thigh is parallel to the ground.
- Begin to straighten your right leg, pushing up through your heel, and returning your left foot to the starting position.
- Repeat steps 1–3 for the desired number of reps, then switch legs.
Start with 3 sets of 10–12 reps using only your body weight. When this becomes easy, try adding weight (detailed below) to keep progressing.
Curtsy lunges can be reserved for leg day or added to a full-body workout — it’s up to you!
Incorporate this move after other primary leg exercises, like squats and standard lunges, to hit those muscles in a different way.
As always, ensure that you’re properly warmed up before strength training.
Complete 5 to 10 minutes of easy to moderate cardio, followed by some dynamic stretching, to make sure your body is primed for movement.
Curtsy lunges are a beginner-friendly exercise, but there are a few form details to take note of.
You aren’t allowing your chest to fall forward
If your torso doesn’t stay upright during a curtsy lunge, you’ll lose some glute activation — one of the most important aspects of the move.
Check in with yourself throughout the movement, ensuring that your chest stays upright and your gaze stays directly ahead.
You aren’t lowering far enough down
Completing a partial rep instead of a full rep won’t afford the full benefits of a curtsy lunge.
Make sure you’re lowering your thigh as close to parallel to the ground as it will go before returning to your starting position.
You aren’t keeping your hips square
Your hips should stay square with the rest of your body during a curtsy lunge.
If you twist your hips as you’re curtsying, you’ll lose the activation in your glutes and hips.
You’re allowing your knee to fall too far over your toe line
As with any lunge, letting the knee fall over the toe line has the potential to cause injury.
This is dependent upon many factors — such as your individual anatomy — but a good rule of thumb is to sit back in your hips to initiate the movement, preventing the knee from falling too far forward.
Once a bodyweight curtsy lunge becomes easy, try adding weight in one of the ways below.
Take care that you’re still maintaining proper form, though, as the torso may fall forward under the pull of extra weight.
With a kettlebell
Hold a single kettlebell in front of you at chest level while curtsy-lunging.
With a dumbbell in each hand
Hold one dumbbell in each hand, arms down by your sides, throughout the movement.
With a barbell
Safely load a barbell onto your shoulders, then complete the move.
With a Smith machine
Utilize this machine, which is an assisted barbell, for extra support during the lunge or as an additional challenge.
Try these variations to switch things up.
Curtsy lunge with kick
Step back and around for a curtsy lunge, but instead of returning your foot to the starting position, kick it out to the side, dropping right back into the curtsy position.
Double cross curtsy lunge
Incorporate your upper body into the curtsy lunge with this move.
To perform, hold a dumbbell on your right shoulder with both hands.
Step your right foot back and around for the curtsy while simultaneously bringing the weight down to your outside left thigh while extending your arms.
Return to start and repeat.
Curtsy lunge with a hold
Challenge your core and stability even more with this variation.
Step back and around for a curtsy lunge, then bring that leg up in front of you with a bent knee for a hold.
Pause for 5 seconds, then repeat.
Strengthen your legs, glutes, and hips with curtsy lunges. Everyone — from beginners to advanced exercisers — can reap the benefits of this move when performed properly.
Nicole Davis is a writer based in Madison, WI, a personal trainer, and a group fitness instructor whose goal is to help women live stronger, healthier, happier lives. When she’s not working out with her husband or chasing around her young daughter, she’s watching crime TV shows or making sourdough bread from scratch. Find her on Instagram for fitness tidbits, #momlife and more.