The thruster is that compound move, and it works muscles and joints throughout the body to great effect. It can be done with a barbell, dumbbells or kettlebells with equally good results and it fits easily into a weights session or HIIT workout. It’s an especially popular exercise in the CrossFit community, and you know how that bunch love doing compound moves at speed.
The squatting part of the moment targets all the major muscles in your lower body, with your quads, hamstrings and glutes all put to work. As you move the weight up your core takes over, and then the overhead press section strengthens the entire upper body and your shoulders in particular.
How To Do The Barbell Thruster
Stand with the bar in the front squat rack position, holding it with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your elbows as high as you can as you lower into a squat. Keep your knees wide apart and your heels down. Lower until your thighs are at least parallel with the ground.
Drive up through your heels using your quads and glutes. Maintain that momentum as you come to the top of the squat and use it to help you push the bar over your head until your arms are locked out. Then bring the bar back down to your chest to complete one rep.
You can approach the barbell thruster in two ways. Going for a heavier weight and doing low reps will help you build power. Alternatively use a lighter weight and up the reps for a fat-torching, high-intensity workout.
How To Do The Dumbbell Thruster
The form doesn’t differ much, but there are benefits to doing the move with dumbbells. First, if you have any wrist or shoulder issues that flare up when using a barbell, using dumbbells might be more comfortable because you hold them with your palms facing during the thruster, rather than the overhand grip used with a barbell.
The other major advantage dumbbells have over barbells is that they’ll train each side of the body separately, so you can’t rely on one stronger side to push the weight up. Identifying and addressing imbalances in your muscles is important for reducing the risk of injury. If you notice that one side struggles with a weight that the other is managing comfortably when doing the thruster, it’s worth targeting your weaker side in your workouts until both sides are equally strong.
To do the dumbbell thruster hold two weights by your shoulders, with your palms facing. Drop into a squat, then push up and press the weights straight overhead until your arms are fully extended. Then lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
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How To Do The Kettlebell Thruster
The kettlebell thruster offers many of the same benefits as the dumbbell thruster, working each side of the body separately to expose and correct any weaknesses, but there are a couple of reasons to use kettlebells instead of dumbbells. One is that you might only have kettlebells available (a very good reason, that) and the other is that the off-centre load of the kettlebell can provide an extra challenge to your core while you perform the thruster.
Hold two kettlebells in the rack position by your shoulders with the bell resting on your forearm and your elbows pointing down. Drop into a squat, then drive back up and push the kettlebells overhead.
How To Do The Single-Arm Thruster
This is one of the rare occasions where halving the weight can increase the challenge of an exercise, to your core at least. Holding only one dumbbell or kettlebell during the exercise (don’t do single-arm thrusters with a barbell, obviously) means your body has to work to resist rotating towards that side, strengthening your core muscles. You might find that a lighter weight is required to avoid being pulled over to one side, but otherwise perform the dumbbell or kettlebell thruster as normal, holding the weight by your shoulder and pushing it overhead as you come out of a full squat.
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Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.