Thruster Exercise – Your ‘How To’ Guide

Thruster Explained - How to Do Thrusters

Thruster Exercise Explained

The thruster is a popular compound exercise athletes, weightlifters and martial artists use, and is found in CrossFit workouts. It is also called a squat press. A Thruster exercise is a combination of an overhead press move and a front squat. It is a full-body movement and as well as being something that helps with coordination, balance and endurance it also works your upper and lower body, develops a stronger core and gives you cardio benefits too. That is why it is included in Thruster CrossFit workouts. Below we explore what a full thruster exercise is, how to do them, what benefits they offer, and the different types of thruster you can choose from.

What is a Thruster Workout - Thruster Exercise

What is a Thruster Workout

Whether you do the Deadlift, an Air Squat, the Snatch or Thrusters, it is important to use the right technique and form when performing your CrossFit exercise. Otherwise, you are not getting all the benefits and there is more chance of injury. When looking at what is a thruster workout, most often, it starts with using just a barbell. Then as you perfect the movement you can add more weight or change the type of exercise used to get more out of it. Key is to keep your movements controlled and smooth. The whole exercise is a fluid and continuous motion not short and separate. Whether you are doing a Thruster CrossFit routine, or as part of another workout, having a CrossFit coach or trainer is the best way to get the movement and form correctly.

Here is a breakdown of what is a thruster workout;

  1. Hold your barbell with an overhand grip and stand so that your feet are shoulder-width apart and your hands are also at that distance.
  2. Hold your shoulders back and keep them down and your spine straight.
  3. Your knees should have a very slight bend, you should not lock them, and your feet go under the bar.
  4. Slowly raise the barbell so that it is above your shoulders or up to the collarbone and make sure your elbows are either facing forward or underneath.
  5. As you slowly lower your body down into a deep squat engage your core and push out your chest.
  6. Now if you have enough flexibility to do so, drop your glutes lower as though in a sitting position and turn your knees out a little for stability.
  7. Engage your core and press your heels and the outside of your feet down, bringing your elbows up swiftly and push quickly into a standing position.
  8. At this stage of a full thruster exercise, you push your heels to the floor, engage your glutes and push the bar overhead.
  9. As you straighten your arms push your head forwards so that your ears are before your biceps then return your head so it is in line with your arms.
  10. Slowly lower the barbell to collarbone height once more and repeat the movements for the next thruster.

What Muscles Do Thrusters Work

Part of why this is such a popular dynamic movement included in various workouts is that it works out so many muscle groups. Thrusters work similar muscle groups compared to Air Squats, but strengthen your upper body slightly more. Thrusters muscles worked are;

  • Shoulders – The shoulders assist in the overhead load to the lockout position and this works out the muscles there.
  • Glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps – When looking at what muscles do thrusters work the obvious ones are the glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings. You need strong legs for the front squat and strong glutes and quads for improved thruster strength
  • Triceps – The triceps are worked when the load is locked overhead.
  • Core and back muscles – Another of the groups of thrusters muscles worked and important to have proper form and technique to avoid injury to these areas.

Thruster Benefits Explained

Thruster Benefits

Thrusters are called compound exercises because it combines the overhead press and the front squat and uses several joints. There are a lot of thruster exercise benefits as it boosts your strength and your cardiovascular fitness. It also improves your endurance and increases your metabolism. With regular exercise, you will see the benefits of thrusters such as better flexibility, movement efficiency and coordination.

  • Improve body strength and power – Since you are using some of the biggest muscles in the body it is a great way to improve your strength in all the muscles you work, giving you more power and athleticism too.
  • Good metabolic exercise – It is also a great way to get your heart pumping as you use a range of movements and a full range of movement. You can add in different weights and methods to increase that when you need to.
  • Increase arm and shoulder strength – Another of the benefits of thrusters is that you get improved shoulder and arm strength. Eventually, you will lift heavier loads.
  • Improve your squat form – With thrusters, you are also working on the correct form for front squats and the overhead press.
  • Get faster and fitter – Including thrusters as part of a regular workout is a great way to get fit, stay fit and move quicker.

Types of Thrusters Explained

While traditionally thrusters tend to start out using a barbell, other items can be used and different movements can make the exercise easier or harder depending on what you need. Adding sandbags, kettlebells, dumbbells or switching between lightweight reps and high reps is another way to get more out of the exercise.

  • Barbell thruster – Most people doing the thruster start with barbell thrusters. You just use the barbell at first and then add weight as you get stronger.
  • Dumbbell thrusters/Db thrusters – Using dumbbells is a great way to improve your balance. You complete the same movement as with a barbell thruster but Db thrusters mean you have one in each hand so you need to have your palms facing each other.
  • Kettlebell thruster – Double Kb thrusters are challenging and best saved for one you have mastered the form and technique. A kettlebell thruster requires a lot more control and uses more complex variations.
  • Single Arm thruster – Using a dumbbell or kettlebell you can do single arm thrusters.
  • Medicine Ball thruster – If you are not comfortable with a barbell a good entry into the thruster is using a medicine ball as it is safer and lighter. It is also a good option for thrusters when you want to increase cardiovascular capacity.

Now that you have a brief overview of the different types of thrusters, we want to explain in detail each of the most popular thrusters types (barbell, dumbbell & kettlebell).

Barbell Thrusters

Barbell Thruster

A popular type of thruster is the Barbell thrusters CrossFit exercise that works both the lower and upper body for a complete workout using a barbell. It combines the squat action with the press action and is also called a squat and press for that reason. Thrusters with a barbell do not have to use a weight on the end. You can start with just the barbell and then progress to adding weight when you have the move perfected. Barbell thrusters are known to induce a good burn and are hard work.

Barbell Thrusters Benefits

There are a lot of Barbell thruster exercise benefits in this workout as it uses a lot of muscle groups. Here is a look at some of the main ones.

  1. Improved leg strength – Barbell thrusters benefits include really working out your leg muscles, especially your glutes and quads, and even your hamstrings to some extent.
  2. Better upper body strength – As well as leg strength you also improve your upper body strength. Barbell thrusters muscles worked include your back muscles, shoulders, biceps and triceps.
  3. Stronger core strength – When considering what muscles do barbell thrusters work, your core is one of the key areas. When you have a stronger core you are less likely to deal with back problems and it improves your balance.
  4. Improve your endurance levels – Barbell thruster exercise benefits also include better endurance both in terms of cardiovascular work and muscle work.

How to do Barbell Thrusters – Step by Step Guide

To follow the proper barbell thrusters form you need a barbell, and if you are using any, plates and barbell clips. If you are new to them, do without weights first. The clips hold the plates on so there is no shifting. There are two parts to Barbell Thrusters so here is a step-by-step guide to each part.

Part One – The front squat

  1. Start in the front-rack position with the barbell on your shoulders above the collarbone, elbows forwards and triceps horizontal to the ground. Your grip should stay firm and your eyes forwards.
  2. Tighten your abdomen, engage your core and take a breath then hinging at your hips, bend your knees and lower till you reach as low as you can go. Ideally, that position is with thighs horizontal to the floor. Your eyes should still be forwards, your chest lifted and your heels firmly in the ground.
  3. The next move in the Barbell thrusters technique is to push through your heels as you stand so you propel the barbell up and squeeze your glutes so that your hips are pushed forward.

Part Two – The Barbell Press

  1. As you squeeze your glutes press the barbell up using power from the hip to create momentum.
  2. Proper barbell thrusters form is essential so now extend the arms pressing up but not overstretching your lower back.
  3. Once you lock at the top, lower the bar back down into your starting position.

How to Do Barbell Thrusters Safely to Avoid Injuries

Barbell thrusters injury is to make sure you learn the correct technique, consider the risks, and ideally have a trainer take you through the move until you have them right. Here are a few more tips on how not to do barbell thrusters.

  • As mentioned a trainer is key to staying safe as they can work with you one on one to assess you and get your form perfected.
  • Start with just the barbell with no weights so you focus on the movement without weight added first. When you do add weights start small.
  • Do not drop the bar from overhead it is how injuries happen to you and others around you.
  • For some how to do barbell thrusters safely includes wearing wrist wraps as they help offer extra support.
  • Always pay attention to your form.

Dumbbell Thrusters

Dumbbell Thrusters

Another popular type of thruster is the dumbbell thrusters, Crossfit inspired also. As with any thruster you move from a squat to an overhead position then back to start, but in this you hold dumbbells. While the barbell thrusters are more popular than the dumbbell there is still a lot to gain from this move. A dumbbell thruster workout can be done in one of two ways, one at a time or both at the same time. Training using thrusters with a dumbbell can be a good way to focus muscular development and improve coordination.

Dumbbell Thrusters Benefits

Dumbbell thruster exercise benefits are quite impressive and just as with barbell thrusters include the upper and lower body. They build strength in the legs in particular, but it also builds strength and muscle elsewhere. Dumbbell thrusters benefits your core and upper body too. Dumbbell thrusters muscles worked specifically include;

  • Shoulders
  • Back
  • Core
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Triceps
  • Glutes

When asking what muscles do Dumbbell thrusters work, the answer is a lot!

How to do Dumbbell Thrusters – Step by Step Guide

Proper Dumbbell thrusters form looks like the steps outlined below.

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and lift the dumbbells to your shoulders.
  2. Engage the core and squat, hinging your hips and going as low as you can, ideally so that your thighs are parallel to the floor.
  3. The dumbbell thrusters technique now has you driving your heels into the floor as you push up to return to standing.
  4. Then push up with the weights overhead and then make sure your knees are not locked, lower them down to the starting position.
  5. Repeat the above however many times you want. The proper dumbbell thrusters form means creating a powerful drive up each time. Keep the movements fluid and do not think of them as two separate moves, a squat and press, but rather one whole movement.

How to Do Dumbbell Thrusters Safely to Avoid Injuries

When looking at how to do dumbbell thrusters safely it is important to learn the correct technique and form and to master it. Some tips include;

  • Keep your elbows up, they should be at least parallel to the ground, or possibly even higher. It takes the stress off your shoulders.
  • Avoid tipping forwards as it puts your body in the wrong position and you are more likely to have a rounded back and perhaps have a dumbbell thrusters injury.
  • A common mistake is not going deep enough in the squat but it is critical in order to get the full benefit from a thruster.
  • Avoid going too fast as it often impacts your form especially when you are new to it. Going too fast is how not to do Dumbbell thrusters. Slow it down and focus on your form to avoid injury.

Kettlebell Thrusters

Kettlebell Thrusters

Kettlebell thrusters CrossFit workouts are another popular type to consider. They are a great way to get your heart pumping and you use so many muscles in the body it really is a full-body workout. The Kettlebell thruster workout is a more complex one as there is more skill involved. It is a good idea to perfect the thruster form, maybe work on the barbell first to get it right before moving to thrusters with a Kettlebell. They might look simple to use but it is definitely a move advanced workout so take good care with Kettlebell thrusters. You can have one arm variations or two arms.

Kettlebell Thrusters Benefits

When you look at what muscles do Kettlebell thrusters work and what the benefits of the workout are, you would be surprised by the fact that Kettlebell thrusters muscles worked is over 600 muscles! As well as working on strengthening key areas such as your core, legs, back and hips, and then chest, shoulders and arms, you also get a cardiovascular workout. There are a lot of Kettlebell thruster exercise benefits to look forwards to such as;

  1. Burning calories
  2. Muscle conditioning
  3. Great for developing explosive movement in other areas such as martial arts
  4. Kettlebell thrusters benefits also include developing endurance

How to do Kettlebell Thrusters – Step by Step Guide

Here are the proper kettlebell thrusters form for each of the options when using kettlebells. It is a good idea to start with the two-arm version.

Two arm Kettlebell Thrusters

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and the kettlebell between your feet on the floor. Have your toes turned out slightly and make sure you have a flat back.
  2. Bend at the hips use both hands to grab the kettlebell horns, extend your knees lifting it to chest level into the starting position.
  3. Squat down, moving your hips back and needing your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Keep your squats nice and deep for the best Kettlebell thrusters technique.
  4. When you are as low as you can go, push hard quickly up driving your heels into the floor pushing the kettlebell up into an overhead position. Avoid arching your back and keep your chest up. Repeat.

One arm Kettlebell Thrusters

Very similar to above but you just have one kettlebell and hold it with just one arm. During the squatting part of the move, the kettlebell is held in the starting or racked position. If your shoulder is struggling use the other hand to stabilise. For proper kettlebell thrusters form ask a trainer for help.

Double Kettlebell Thruster

Just like the one arm thrusters but you have a kettlebell in each hand. It is important to get the two-handed and single-handed versions learned and mastered before you move to this more advanced kettlebell thrusters technique.

How to Do Kettlebell Thrusters Safely to Avoid Injuries

When looking at how not to do Kettlebell thrusters so that you remain safe and avoid injury here are some tips;

  • Shoulders are especially prone to injury in these thrusters compared to the dumbbell or barbell. Make sure you listen to your body and if something is painful stop or add support.
  • Avoid leaning back too much as you press and make sure you squeeze those glutes so that you do not hurt your back.
  • Another tip on how to do kettlebell thrusters safely is to not go too shallow as you squat as you lose power for the push.
  • Do not bend or hunch your back as you are more likely to pull a muscle.
  • To avoid Kettlebell thrusters injury experiment with your grip.
  • As with other thrusters avoid doing them too quickly as you are more likely to lose the right form.



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