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Compound exercises are all the rage these days, thanks to the ever-increasing work hours or being left with too little time to exercise in the gym or at the neighbourhood park. While they have always been beneficial for the overall development and upkeep of the body, compound movements have got their due credit with the introduction of newer, more intensive forms of workouts like Crossfit, HIIT, circuit training as well as training for specific sports.

The thruster is an intense exercise that combines the movement of two compound exercises and turns it into one full-body shredder. A combination of the overhead or shoulder press and the front squat, the thruster works twice as many muscles as either one of them performed individually.

Despite its recent popularity, the thruster isn’t a new innovation in exercise as it has been part of Olympic weightlifting programmes for decades. And it combines two basic human movements while carrying any kind of weights to move them from one place to another. (Read more: Functional training)

The thruster allows people to train in a more efficient manner and maximises the results by burning additional fuel in the process. A type of complex or combination exercise, the thruster exercises multiple joints and big muscles. It can be performed using a barbell, a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells or even without any external weights.

Read more: Bodyweight exercises you can do anywhere to stay fit

  1. Benefits of the thruster exercise
  2. How to perform the thruster exercise correctly
  3. Alternative exercises to the thruster
  4. Takeaways

The thruster is a relatively high-intensity exercise as compared to exercises that focus on just one muscle. It ends up consuming a lot of energy, providing the following benefits:

  • Works multiple muscles: Bigger muscle groups of the body - like the legs including the quadriceps, hamstrings and the glutes, as well as the shoulders, back and triceps in the upper body - get a workout.
  • Boosts cardiovascular fitness: When performed with lighter weights to achieve more repetitions, the thrusters can become an excellent cardiovascular exercise.
  • Builds muscle endurance: When performed with heavier weights for fewer repetitions, the exercise allows the muscles to grow faster and expend energy quickly.
  • Time-saver: Those with little time on their hands can still get in a solid workout, thanks to compound movements like the thruster.
  • Builds core strength: The rapid transition from the front squat to the overhead press requires core stability, and this exercise is excellent for building it.
  • Boosts overall control: Handling relatively heavier weights while quickly moving in downward and upward directions builds control in the body, thus creating greater awareness.
  • Functional strength: The explosive strength needed to perform thrusters is highly beneficial in training for high-intensity sports that require strength and speed.

In theory, the thruster can seem like an exercise that simply combines two exercises together. But performing two intense movements together requires control and stability in the body, especially while performing it with external weights. To begin with, it is always a good idea to perform this movement without any weights for a while, and ease into the weighted version after understanding the movement completely.

Equipment required

A barbell with or without weighted plates/a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells/medicine ball

Muscles worked

Lower body: Glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and core

Upper body: Shoulders, back and triceps

Sets & reps

Start with 3 sets of 10 reps each

How to do it

  • Stand up straight with the chest out, hips back and knees slightly bent. Hold the barbell in a front squat position, resting the barbell on your shoulders.
  • Move into a front squat by bending your knees, pushing your hips back and keeping the back straight. The thighs should be parallel to the floor or further down.
  • Push your feet down into the ground. Now use the force from your legs to explosively and suddenly bring yourself up by straightening your knees. In the same fluid movement, straighten your arms above your head into a shoulder press. This is one rep.

Tip: Pay special attention to your form. Adjust the weights as your skill and comfort levels improve.

The thrusters are meant for those who are already habituated to compound exercises like burpees, along with others. The thruster requires a degree of strength in the body to be able to perform it with the perfect form. If you are starting out on your fitness journey, it is important that you first get used to the basic movements of various exercises before amping up on the intensity.

Some exercises to master before attempting full thrusters are:

  • Front squat
  • Overhead or shoulder press
  • Push press

Thrusters are an excellent way to build strength in the body in an effort to transition into the next level of strength training exercises. Thrusters are the gateway to more complex lifts that are used in sports like Olympic weightlifting, as well as for other high-intensity workouts.

For more complex workouts like the thrusters, it is important to build requisite strength in the body first. You can do this by performing isolated movements as well as simpler compound movements.

Following the right method and technique is of paramount importance, as a workout injury can derail your fitness programme for a long time.

Remember to warm up before the workout and stretch afterwards. It is also a good idea to exercise with a trained instructor who can advise you on the right form and technique, and on the right weights for your skill level.

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  1. Eckert R and Snarr R. Kettlebell Thruster Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2014 Aug; 36(4):73-76.
  2. Tibana RA and de Sousa NMF. Are extreme conditioning programmes effective and safe? A narrative review of high-intensity functional training methods research paradigms and findings. BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine. 2018; 4(1): e000435. PMID: 30498574.
  3. Meigh NJ et al. Kettlebell training in clinical practice: a scoping review.. BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2019 Sep; 11(19).
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