Thruster Workouts: 7 Great Thruster Exercises To Build Strength

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A thruster CrossFit workout is an excellent way to elevate your heart rate while strengthening almost every major muscle in your body, including your quads, glutes, hamstrings, core muscles, upper back muscles, deltoids, and pecs.

However, if you want to do a full thruster workout, you might be keen to have a few thruster variations to keep your workout a little more varied and engaging.

In this article, we will cover how to perform the basic thruster exercise and step-by-step instructions for some of the best thruster modifications and variations so that you can put together a dynamic, challenging thruster workout:

A kettlebell thruster.

How to Do a Thruster

The thruster exercise is one of the foundational movements in CrossFit workouts.

The basic thruster CrossFit exercise essentially combines a front squat with a push press in one sequenced movement.

The goal is to perform as many reps as possible and to move quickly, powerfully, and explosively. This will help boost the cardiovascular and metabolic demands of the exercise while recruiting more muscle fibers in your legs as neuromuscular fatigue accumulates.

Basic Thruster

Here are the steps for how to perform the standard thruster exercise:

  1. Hold the barbell as if you are going to perform a front squat.
  2. Keep your core engaged as you perform a front squat.
  3. Once your thighs are parallel to the ground and your knees are bent to 90°, explode up and out of the squat, driving your hips and knees into the extended position and pressing the barbell all the way up overhead until your elbows are fully locked out.
  4. At the top position, quickly bring the barbell back to the front squat location and smoothly transition back down into your next rep.

The Best Thruster Workout Variations

There are not all that many variations on the thruster exercise that directly replicate the same movement pattern. 

However, there are beginner modifications that can help you work towards being able to perform a full thruster, and you can use different weighted implements to present your muscles with a different type of load.

Beginner Thruster Workouts: Bodyweight Thruster

First, we will cover beginner modifications for thruster workouts.

As mentioned, the thruster exercise is basically a front squat coupled with a push press.

When working towards mastering thruster CrossFit workouts, beginners can start the thruster exercise with just body weight.

To do a bodyweight thruster, you will mimic the exact movement pattern of a thruster, except you will not use any type of resistance.

Perform a bodyweight squat, or what is called an air squat in CrossFit workouts, but keep your hands up by your clavicles as if gripping a barbell.

As you press through your heels back up from the squat position, extend your arms all the way up overhead as if performing the overhead press portion of the exercise.

Beginners can also work on improving their thruster CrossFit workouts by taking each portion of the thruster exercise and practicing it individually before sequencing both segments together.

In other words, practice your front squats with a heavy barbell, gradually increasing the weight and number of reps that you perform.

Then, practice your barbell push presses.

Related: 30 Motivational Gym Quotes To Supercharge Your Next Workout

Thruster Exercise Variations

#1: Dumbbell Thruster

Another way to vary your thruster workouts is to use different types of resistance other than a barbell. 

You can perform thrusters with dumbbells, kettlebells, or resistance bands.

The benefit of adding kettlebell or dumbbell thrusters into your thrusters workouts is that the nature of these types of free weights requires you to lift and control the weight on each side of your body rather than being able to more easily balance and push press a bilateral barbell.

If you have muscle imbalances, the dumbbell thruster or kettlebell thruster progression is a great way to challenge your weaker side to help correct these strength deficits. 

The dumbbell and kettlebell can also help improve strength because the weights are not as well stabilized as a long barbell with the weight plates on either end.

Resistance band thrusters are great for doing CrossFit workouts at home or thrusters workouts when you are traveling because a resistance band takes up very little room but can still provide a decent amount of resistance to the exercise.

The basic thruster exercise performed with dumbbells, kettlebells, or resistance bands is virtually identical to barbell thrusters, but you can also get creative with how you progress your dumbbell thrusters and kettlebell thrusters for more advanced thruster workouts.

Here are a couple of progressions you can try in advanced thrusters workouts:

#2: Alternating Dumbbell Thrusters

This is one of the best thruster workout exercises for anti-rotation core strength and unilateral stabilization.

Perform the normal thruster, but only press up with one dumbbell per rep. Keep the other dumbbell in place just in front of your shoulder.

Keep alternating sides for each rep, making sure that your torso stays upright and does not lean to the side that is doing the overhead press.

#3: Bottoms Up Kettlebell Thrusters

You can perform a kettlebell thruster just as you did with the dumbbell thruster exercise, but if you want to really challenge your grip strength and forearm strength, one of the best thruster exercise modifications is to invert the kettlebell so that you are gripping the handle and the bell is pointing up towards the ceiling.

Because the bulk of the weight will be above your hand and grip, it is much more difficult to balance and control the kettlebell. 

Resultantly, your forearm muscles and finger flexors have to work tremendously hard to lift and stabilize the kettlebell as you are dynamically pressing the weights up and lowering them back down.

Here are the steps to perform this challenging thruster workout exercise:

  1. Stand upright with good posture.
  2. Grip the handle of a kettlebell in each hand just in front of each shoulder. 
  3. The kettlebell should be upside down so that the bell is above your shoulders and pointing towards the ceiling, and the handle is below in your palm. Your wrists should be extended as much as possible so that your palms are facing up towards the ceiling as they grip the kettlebell handle, and your elbows are in front of your body, with the insides of your forearms facing away from your body.
  4. Then, drop down into your front squat, keeping a tight grip on the kettlebell handle to help balance the top-heavy weight. 
  5. As you press back up from the squat to the standing position, simultaneously press the kettlebells straight up into the air over each shoulder, again making sure that you are maintaining an extremely tight grip on the handle to control the weight.
  6. Slowly return the weights back to your shoulders as you drop back down into your squat to begin the next rep. If possible, try to maintain a small space between your hands and your shoulders so that the weights are not resting on your body.

#4: Jump Squat Thrusters

For an even more dynamic thruster CrossFit exercise, you can add the very popular jump squat or squat thrust CrossFit exercise with the basic thruster to make a metabolically demanding plyometric thruster. 

When you perform this advanced plyometric thruster, you should start with light dumbbells and then gradually progress to a barbell or heavier weights as your strength and power increase. 

The nature of jumping makes this a high-impact exercise, so adding additional weights will greatly increase the magnitude of the force going through your bones and joints.

Here are the steps for how to perform plyometric thrusters:

  1. Stand upright with good posture as if performing the dumbbell thruster exercise.
  2. Squat down as you normally would.
  3. As you press through your feet to rise back to the standing position, explode through the balls of your feet to actually push your body off of the ground so that you are performing a vertical jump while simultaneously pressing the weights overhead.
  4. Then, as you get ready to land, bend your knees to cushion the landing as you bring the weights back down to your shoulders and smoothly transition directly down into the next squat before powering up into the next vertical jump press.

#5: Split Squat Thrusters

Another way to make your thrusters workouts more challenging is to progress the exercise by performing a split squat thruster. 

The unilateral nature of this movement can help you correct strength deficits while greatly increasing the demand on your core muscles and the stabilizer muscles in your hips and ankles to help balance your body on a narrow base of support.

Ready to up your thruster CrossFit workouts? Try our beginner CrossFit workout for strength and power here.

A dumbbell thruster.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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