A thruster might sound like an intimidating movement, but it's really just a combination of two common exercises — the squat and the overhead press.
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Exercises can be categorized as isolation or compound. An isolation exercise involves movement around a single joint and targets a relatively small number of muscles. A compound exercise involves movement around two or more joints and targets a large number of muscles.
Compound exercises allow you to perform a high volume of training work in minimal time and generally have the greatest carry-over into sports and physical performance. One very effective compound exercise is the thruster.
A thruster combines a front squat with an overhead press.
Read more: How to Do a CrossFit Thruster
What Is a Thruster?
A thruster is a combination of two traditional compound weight-training exercises: the front squat and overhead press. Exercise combinations, such as the thruster, are sometimes referred to as complexes.
You can do thrusters with dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, a medicine ball or a sandbag. In fact, almost any heavy object can be used for thrusters. They are a popular exercise with mixed martial arts fighters, people who follow the CrossFit training system and also with athletes.
Perform the Thruster Exercise
To perform a thruster, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your chosen weight held in front of your shoulders. Your elbows should be below your hands.
- Lift your chest, push your hips back and bend your knees.
- Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Explosively drive up and out of the squat.
- Maintain the momentum of the bar by powerfully extending your arms and pushing it overhead to arms' length.
- Bend your arms and lower the bar back to your shoulders before squatting down and repeating.
Read more: What Muscles Do Squats Target?
Thrusters and Muscles Worked
Thruster exercises work many of your major muscles. Your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes — essentially all your major leg muscles — work very hard in the squatting part of thrusters. The force developed by your legs is then transmitted into your upper body via your abdominal and lower-back muscles.
Finally, your shoulders, upper back and triceps provide a powerful push to drive the weight overhead. The thruster is very much a whole-body exercise.
Benefits of Thruster Exercise
Thruster exercises can be performed using a variety of set and repetition schemes to target different elements of your physical fitness. High-rep, light-weight sets of thrusters are metabolically demanding and can dramatically elevate your heart rate and improve your cardiovascular fitness.
Low-rep, heavy-weight sets will develop muscular strength and power. Performing thrusters with an unstable object — such as a water-filled barrel or sandbag — improves your core strength, whereas using dumbbells improves your balance.
Proceed With Caution
Thrusters are not suitable for beginners. The complex, coordinated nature of this exercise, combined with lifting a potentially heavy weight overhead, means that thrusters are a high-risk exercise more suited to experienced exercisers.
Thrusters also place a significant and potentially injurious load on your lumbar spine, so it is essential that you perform thrusters using perfect technique and do not allow your lower back to become rounded.