How to Do Thrusters

Young man in a gym doing a barbell thruster

What if you could train your whole body with just one workout? Learning how to do thrusters will train your whole body in a challenging but highly beneficial way. 

The thruster exercise is a full-body workout that merges the overhead press and the front squat into a single dynamic movement. Before you can partake in this powerful movement, you need to know how to do thrusters the right way.

Seen at the Games and in many Crossfit gyms, this workout is considered one of the more grueling exercises that many dread doing. One of the reasons it's so dreaded is because it requires substantial power and strength to accomplish.

The thruster is one of the most popular workouts in gyms. Even though many shudder at the thought of thrusters, you are certain to experience the burn that proves its benefits and worth in your workout routine.

The following will address thrusters, the benefits, risks, challenges, what muscles that thrusters work, variations of thrusters, and step-by-step instructions for the top three variations of thruster workouts. 

What Is the Thruster Workout?

People who do thrusters refer to this exercise as brutal, challenging, difficult, demanding, sweaty, and full-body. But what is this thruster exercise? It's an exercise that leaves no muscle group behind in your workout. It's a combination of a deep front squat and an overhead press, all performed in a single motion. 

What Muscles Are Worked With Thrusters?

When you perform thrusters correctly, you will be working on your upper body and lower body strength. This is one reason it's so challenging.

If you've ever done air squats, you can compare the thruster workout to that exercise.

Thrusters work several muscle groups, but ideally, they strengthen the upper body somewhat more than the lower body.

Thrusters work these muscles:

  • Shoulders: Your shoulders aid in bringing weights over your head in the lockout position, working out the deltoid muscle groups. Deltoids are used to push/drive up the weight overhead. Thrusters work the anterior, medial, and posterior delts. 

  • Back muscles and core: Your core needs to be engaged to protect your back from injury during thrusters. Thrusters require the transfer of force produced by your legs up and into your arms and upper body through your midsection, or core. Your core acts as a bridge to close the gap between your lower and upper body while keeping your spine stable. Your core muscles include the rectus abdominis, obliques, transverse abdominis, and erector spinae.

  • Quadriceps: Also known as quads, these muscles are found on top of your thighs and are responsible for helping to extend the knees. You have four (quad) quadriceps called the rectus femoris, vastus intermedius, vastus medialis, and the vastus lateralis. Your rectus femoris is responsible for hip joint flexion.

  • Glutes: Your glutes relate to your gluteus maximus, which are the muscles in your buttocks. Your glutes work alongside your hamstrings to aid hip extension. Thrusters are effective glute building workouts. This is why you must deep squat.

  • Hamstrings: There are three hamstring muscles in the thigh, called the semitendinosus, biceps femoris, and semimembranosus. Hamstrings make knee flexion and hip extension possible. 

  • Triceps: When your weight is being held overhead, you are engaging your triceps, which are the large muscles in your upper arm. Your triceps help to extend your elbows to push the weight up and over your head. The triceps are a three-headed muscle in the upper arm with three parts: medial, lateral, and the long head, that are exercised when you perform thrusters. 

As expected, this is a highly challenging, full-body workout.

Rear view of male bodybuilder posing

What Are the Thruster Benefits?

Because thrusters merge the deep front squat and overhead press exercises into a single motion, it's considered a compound exercise. It engages not only upper body and lower body muscles, but it also engages several joints.

There are many benefits to thruster workouts, including enhancing your strength and improving your cardiovascular fitness. Thrusters are so dynamic, that they boost your metabolism and increase your endurance.

When performed regularly, you will start to see and feel the benefits of thrusters, like better coordination and flexibility.

  • Improved power and strength: Thrusters use some of the largest muscles in your body, so they improve your power and strength.

  • Excellent metabolic workout: This exercise gets your heart pumping by using a large range of movements in your full range of movement. As you improve and get stronger, you can add weights and more techniques as needed.

  • Improved exercise efficiency: Thrusters engage large and important muscles in one exercise. When you need to get a full-body exercise, doing a few sets of this workout will help engage and train your whole body.

  • Improved squat form: When performing thrusters, you are in the ideal position for proper squat form and for the overhead press.

  • Enhanced shoulder and arm strength: One major benefit of thrusters is that you will build and improve your shoulder and arm strength, which will result in lifting heavier loads.

  • Get more fit and faster: Adding thrusters to your regular workout routine is an excellent way to tone, get fit, stay fit, and move faster.

What Are the Risks of Thrusters?

Almost every type of exercise comes with some risks, and thrusters are no exception. Here are some of the risks of doing thrusters.

Back Injury

The thruster requires a deep frontal squat that can cause you to get a rounded back. If you round your lumbar spine, you will be putting more pressure on the vertebrae and ligaments. As a result, you run the risk of potential back pain or major injury.

That's why you need to engage your core and glutes in this exercise to help you maintain a neutral spine position from start to finish. If you're already prone to a rounded lower back, working on the flexibility of your hamstrings can help.

Wrist Pain

Another complaint that some have while performing thrusters is wrist pain. This occurs because of the front rack position. If your forearms are tight, or you have big biceps and tight lats, it may be difficult to perform a comfortable front rack position.

Dumbbell thrusters are easier on the wrists.

Knee Pain

The deep squat required for thrusters can result in knee pain for some people. If you bounce out of the bottom position of the exercise or lower yourself too quickly, knee pain can be exacerbated. You can prevent knee pain by getting your descent under control and by stopping at parallel.

Young woman clutching knee in pain

It Requires a Learning Curve

Thrusters may not be as difficult as snatches and power cleans, but they are still challenging, which means they are hard to learn. Be patient and careful because mastering thrusters will likely take some time.

One of the best ways to improve thrusters is to separately master your frontal squats and overhead presses before trying to merge the two into this one movement.

What Are the Different Thruster Types?

If you're doing conventional thrusters, you'll start with a barbell. You can switch things up by adding dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, or by alternating between high repetitions and lightweight repetitions to get more from thrusters.

Adding other equipment, tools, and movements can make your thrusters easier or more challenging. Here are the different thruster types.

  • Barbell thruster: The barbell thruster is the most common form of this exercise. You can start here and add weights are you gain strength.

  • Kettlebell thruster: Kettlebell thrusters involve more complex variations and a lot more control. Double kettlebell thrusters are more challenging, so save that for when you master the single kettlebell thruster.

  • Dumbbell thrusters: Dumbbell thrusters are excellent for improving balance. This is done the same way as with a barbell, except you have a weight in each hand. You can start doing thrusters with one dumbbell until you are ready to engage in a challenge with double dumbbells.

  • Medicine Ball thruster: If barbells aren't in your wheelhouse yet, you can use a medicine ball thruster for a lighter and safer workout. This will help improve your cardiovascular fitness.

  • Single Arm thruster: Single arm thrusters are done using a single kettlebell or dumbbell.

That's a brief overview of the variations you can use to perform thruster workouts. The following step-by-step instructions will cover the top three variations of thrusters.

How to Do Thrusters – Techniques and Variations

Barbell Thrusters Step by Step

Follow these step-by-step instructions to start your thruster workout.

  1. Grab your barbell in the overhand rack position as you stand with your feet aligned beneath your shoulders.

  2. Keep your shoulders back, keeping the down and your back straight.

  3. You should have your knees slightly bent to avoid locking them, and squat down letting your feet go underneath the bar.

  4. Gradually raise the barbell and lift it over your shoulders, or at least to your collarbone, making sure to keep your elbows underneath or facing forward.

  5. As you slowly move into a deep squat, activate your core while pushing out your chest.

  6. If you are flexible enough, drop down your hips and glutes, almost into a sitting position, as you turn out your knees for extra support and stability.

  7. Activate your core as you press your heels and the outer part of your feet into the floor, while quickly bringing up your elbows as you swiftly push your heels into the floor.

  8. At this point, you are in full thruster mode, so push your heels more to the floor, and activate your glutes while pushing the bar over your head.

  9. Push your head forward as you straighten your arms so your ears are ahead of your biceps, taking your head back in line with the arms.

  10. Carefully lower the barbell to your collarbone again and repeat step one to start the next thruster.

Female bodybuilder squatting with a barbell

Kettlebell Thrusters Step by Step

You will need two kettlebells for this two-arm kettlebell thruster workout. It's easier to start this way before trying to move into the one-arm version.

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-length apart and with the kettlebells sitting between your feet on the floor. Your toes should be slightly turned out and your back should be straight and flat. 

  2. Bend your body at the hips, using both hands to pick up the kettlebells, and stretch out your knees as you lift them to chest level, which is your starting position for kettlebell thrusters.

  3. Begin your squat, shifting your hips backwards, making your thighs parallel to the floor. Make these squats good and deep for the proper technique and best results.

  4. Once you get as low as possible, push up hard and swiftly, pushing your heels into the floor while also pushing the kettlebells into the overhead position. Keep your chest up and your back straight (do not arch your back). 

  5. Start at the top of the exercise and repeat.

One-Arm Kettlebell Thrusters

Once you're ready to move into the one-arm kettlebell thruster workout, you will do this the same way, except you will only use one kettlebell and one arm. When squatting, you will hold the kettlebell at the starting position (like the front rack). If you have problems with your shoulders, use your other hand for support. If you think you're not doing it right, ask for help from a trainer.

Young man in gym in the middle of a one arm kettlebell thruster

Double Kettlebell Thruster

This version is performed the same way as the one-arm kettlebell thrusters, except you will have a kettlebell in each hand like the two-arm version. Master the two-handed and single-handed thrusters before trying any advanced kettlebell thruster workouts. 

What Are the Benefits of Kettlebell Thrusters?

The kettlebell thruster exercises work more than 600 muscles. The key areas that are engaged include the legs, core, hips, back, shoulders, chest, and arms. This is excellent as a cardio workout.

It's good for burning calories, conditioning muscles, developing dynamic movements needed for martial arts, and developing endurance.

Dumbbell Thrusters Step by Step

This dumbbell thruster workout will work your back, shoulders, core, quads, triceps, hamstrings, and glutes. Therefore, you are working your upper body and lower body. You will build the desired leg strength, but also in other areas as well.

  1. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart as you lift the dumbbells to your shoulders. 

  2. Next, engage your core and start squatting, hinging your hips back as you descend as far as you can. The proper form is to make your thighs parallel to the floor. 

  3. At this point, you need to drive your heels into the floor, pushing upward into the standing position. 

  4. Repeat these steps as many times as you like. Practice will help you create a more powerful push up every time you do this. Make sure to keep your movements fluid as if it's one move, not two merged together. 

Vector drawing of a woman doing a thruster exercise

Safety Tips for Dumbbell Thrusters 

  • Always keep your elbows up, parallel to the floor, or higher to take the stress off your shoulders.

  • Keep things slow and steady to avoid any impact on your form when you are learning this exercise. 

  • People commonly fail to go deep enough into the squat, but that is a critical part of this workout.

  • Don't tip your body forward, or you will end up in a bad position that could cause you to have a rounded back or other thruster injuries.

Who Can Do Thrusters?

Anyone who wants to get a full-body workout can do the thruster exercise. However, this exercise is commonly used by functional fitness athletes, powerlifters, strongman athletes, and Olympic weightlifters. 

Functional Fitness Athletes

Competitive functional fitness and CrossFit athletes understand the importance of doing thrusters. These athletes have to be efficient and strong in their events. This category of athletes requires sport-centric efficiency, leg endurance, flexibility, movement coordination, and balance. All of these things are improved with thrusters. 

Young athlete practicing thrusters

Strongman Athletes and Powerlifters

For this category of athletes, thrusters make a perfect low-impact movement that conditions dynamic movement, squat primer, and consumes a lot of calories. Since these athletes are lifting weights, coming out of the thruster squat into the overhead lift is very useful for them.

Olympic Weightlifters

As you might expect, Olympic weightlifters need to have endurance, but also power and strength in their legs and shoulders. They also need a strong core to prevent injury. For weightlifting, thruster workouts are good practice for training for recovery in the clean and the receiving position. This exercise is perfect for Olympic weightlifters to enhance their speed, strength, and recovery. 


Even though the thruster is challenging and takes a lot of strength and power, it's worth the work. The benefits of this exercise come in the form of more strength, power, endurance, and stamina no matter what the area of athletics.

This exercise offers adaptability, and variations to help you build up to more challenging thrusters, and you will never get bored of this workout. If anything, you are likely to continue to challenge yourself. 

Thrusters are not recommended for newbies in the gym, though with a trainer, you could get started in a few weeks. Also, thrusters take time to master before you can start to challenge yourself.

Ultimately, thrusters can build pure brute strength, burn calories, boost muscular endurance, and enhance cardiorespiratory fitness, which are all things strong athletes need. 

For anyone who wants a good challenge that will change your body, thrusters meet that criteria.

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