The Infamous Thruster


One of the best total body exercises is the Thruster which can be done with a barbell, dumbbells, sandbag or weighted ball.   It is a head to toe affair with just about every single muscle in the body being involved.  It will also get your heart rate up as fast as any exercise, and when in a time pinch just doing this one single exercise for extended sets or for multiple work sets with minimum rest can provide a complete total body workout that provides incredible cardiovascular conditioning at the same time!

So here is how you do it:

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, your lower back tightly arched, and the barbell racked on your shoulders with your hands no wider than the outsides of your shoulders, and your elbows up in the front rack position.

Keeping your chest up with your head in a neutral position, push your hips back and descend into a parallel squat.  NOTE:   use your judgement about squat depth – descend only to a point where you can maintain a slight arch in the lower back!

From the bottom position, explode back to the start position as hard as you can, using your momentum to simultaneously press the bar over your head.    When initially learning it is fine to deliberately break the exercise into two parts:   the squat followed by a pause in top position and then press the weight overhead.    Overtime you will learn to complete the exercise in one continuous movement from the bottom of the squat to the top of the press!

Finish in a standing position, with the barbell over and slightly behind your head, with your shoulder stacked over your hips and your hips stacked over your ankles. Then smoothly lower it and descend into another squat in one continuous motion.

The Benefits of the Thruster

The thruster works all of the major muscles in your legs (glutes, hamstrings and quads) during the squat portion of the movement. The power that you generate from your legs when you drive out of the squat is transferred to your upper body through your abdominals and lower back before finally reaching your shoulders, upper back and triceps to help propel the bar over your head.

Similar to the burpee/squat thrusts, the thruster is metabolically challenging and dramatically elevates your heart rate, which in turn helps to improve your cardiovascular capacity.  However, unlike the burpee, it is easy to change load in the Thruster.   Using heavier weight/load helps develop muscular strength and power.

You can also used elastic band resistance including flat, circular bands to do thrusters which is a simple to do, yet fantastic travel exercise routine requiring you to only carry one flat, circular band.   You just stand in the band with feet apart (farther means more band stretch so increases challenge level) and hold the band across your hands in the rack position as if it were a bar.   Everything else is the same but the band will provide even higher levels of challenge at the top of the movement when arms are extended and band is in fully stretched position.    Like weights you can use lighter or heavier bands.

Making your thruster lighter/using lighter resistance band will be more taxing on your muscular endurance and aerobic capacity.  Last, but not least, as mentioned above, the thruster is a versatile workout. Though it is usually performed with a barbell, it can be easily swapped out for dumbells, sandbags, kettlebells, medicine balls, or resistance bands!

Tips for a Good Thruster

Drive through your heels – During the thruster the barbell should be moving up and down in a straight path in the vertical plane. If your weight is not in your heels, you will rock forwards and backwards, meaning the barbell will move outside of that plane, creating a far more inefficient movement that requires extra work.

Push your knees out – The reason being that driving your knees out helps to engage your hips and generate power to move the weight up.

Keep your elbows up – If your elbows are down, then all the weight from the bar will be pulling you down too, making it that much harder to stand up. Keep your elbows nice and high to create a solid base for the bar to rest on your shoulders, which will allow you to pop the bar off your body when you drive through your legs, as mentioned above.

Keep the movement smooth – The best way to do this movement is in one fluid motion after you have learned the movement. If you cannot do it in one motion the weight is likely to heavy – lighten it up.   Once you have learned to move in one smooth motion from the bottom of the squat to the top of the press using your legs to help drive the weight up learn to rest with bar overhead.

Do not over grip the bar – This is especially true when the bar is in the front rack position. A tight grip can quickly fatigue your forearms during thrusters, so loosen your grip when you can. When the bar is overhead, tighten your grip slightly to prevent the bar from wobbling or dropping unexpectedly.

Breathe – It is easy to forget to breath when performing the thruster.   Breath out on the way up and in on the way down to help you keep a steady rhythm.  One breath per thruster; inhale on the way down, and exhale at the top of the press.   Even better eventually breath in through the nose and out through the mouth!

Rest when needed

To really build endurance you will want to try longer sets – as long as 5 minutes!    To do this you MUST breath and keep a steady pace with consistent rhythm and timing.    Small pauses a the top of the movement doing 1 – 3 complete breaths and then starting again are the best way to rest within long sets.

Here are couple of good Thruster technique videos: – Barbell Thruster – Dumbbell Thruster – Circular Band Thruster