Thruster For CrossFit (Barbell, Dumbbell, Kettlebell & More!)

February 1, 2023

The thruster is a very popular barbell movement amongst CrossFitters. It typically tests strength and barbell conditioning, depending on how many reps you need to perform.

Most athletes will typically do a muscle/power clean to get the bar on the shoulders and then move up and down into a full squat to a fully extended position with the barbell extended overhead once in the tall position.

In CrossFit wods (workout of the day), performing 10+ reps continuously with this movement involves moving efficiently and fast instead of doing the exercise explosively and burning out quickly.

How To Thruster For CrossFit

  • Very similar to a clean and push press in olympic weightlifting; however, with the thruster, it's about moving continuously and fluently and not doing one part of the movement at a time.
  • You will start with a clean grip, either muscle cleaning, power cleaning, or full cleaning the weight onto your shoulders.
  • Depending on how you do it, the movement consists of the bar being placed onto the shoulders and then moving into a full squat (like a front squat). The most important part is to ensure you squat deep enough for the rep to count, which is just below parallel. Going into a full squat and bouncing out of the hole creates more of a rhythm, and you will move more efficiently.
  • You will then drive your body up into a fully extended position from the deep squat position, simultaneously driving the bar overhead.
  • Ensure the legs are extended, and the arms are locked out in the overhead position.
  • Depending on how many reps you will perform, you will bring the barbell down into the front rack position onto the shoulders, squat below parallel, and continue the movement until the reps are completed.

Thruster Benefits

Increased Explosive Power

The thruster can increase explosive power by utilizing muscle groups explosively and dynamically. To have this exercise increase explosive power, you need to generate maximum force in a short amount of time, which will then improve the body's ability to produce power.

Using heavier weights (the more advanced athlete) can increase power output, as the muscles must work harder to lift and control the weight.

When you are performing a workout where the weight is very light, and the rep ranges are very high, you don't want to perform the movement as explosively as possible in CrossFit. Doing the thruster with lightweight and multiple reps explosively will lead to faster burnout.

Increased Muscle Endurance

The thruster increases muscle endurance by challenging the muscles to perform a high number of repetitions in a short amount of time.

If you have done this movement before in a workout, you would have noticed how much energy it takes to perform multiple reps, which can push your muscle endurance to the next level.

The stronger you are in this movement, the easier it becomes to do multiple reps with lighter weight. 

This exercise expends so much energy because of the number of muscles engaged from the whole body during each repetition, increasing the demands placed on the muscles.


The more reps you perform, the harder the muscles must work to maintain proper form and control, increasing muscle endurance.

Another benefit of the thruster when wanting to increase muscle endurance means you can do the movement based on your skill level to get the most out of the exercise; that also means you do not always have to perform the thruster with just a barbell. It can be performed with dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, etc.

Increased Calorie Burn

CrossFit Thruster Benefits

The thruster increases calorie burn by utilizing multiple muscle groups in a high-intensity, full-body exercise. The combination of the squat and the press overhead movement increases the demand on the cardiovascular system, elevating the heart rate and increasing calorie burn.

The thruster is also a very effective exercise for weight loss and improving overall fitness.

During this exercise, the body uses a lot of oxygen to fuel the muscles to restore and produce energy.

After this exercise, the body continues to require a higher-than-normal amount of oxygen to restore the body to its normal resting state. This increased demand for oxygen requires the body to burn additional calories.

Increasing Core Strength

The core strength gets especially challenged when doing the thruster at a heavier weight. The thruster increases core strength by challenging the trunk muscles to maintain stability and control throughout the movement.

The core muscles work to keep the spine neutral during the thruster movement and especially in the overhead portion of the movement when the bar moves overhead in the press.

The heavier weight increases the demands placed on the core muscles, challenging the body to generate maximum force and control during the movement.

The full-body nature of the movement also requires the core muscles to work in coordination with the other muscle groups, improving overall core stability and control. Strengthening the core muscles in this manner can also help reduce the risk of injury and improve performance in various other movements and exercises.

I like using the cue "big chest" when the athlete tends to drop the elbows down in the squat portion of the thruster, which automatically makes them aware that they are not engaging their core.

Increased Full-Body Coordination

The squat and the press combination requires the legs, hips, torso, and arms to generate force and control the weight. Coordinating the legs, torso, and upper body in the thruster will help maintain balance and control.

If you are battling with the coordination of this movement, remember that it takes time and repetition. The more you perform this exercise, the easier it will get.

With time and continued work, this will also help you increase that mind-body connection when performing this movement in a workout, which will help you be more efficient when performing multiple reps in a WOD (workout of the day).

Increased Strength In Other CrossFit Movements

When you learn how to do the thruster correctly, you will also benefit with strength and endurance in other exercises like wall balls, single arm thrusters, dumbbell thrusters, and even movements like the push press, which consists of strength, power, and coordination when moving the barbell from the shoulders to the overhead position.

Wall balls, especially, are a very similar movement pattern to the thruster, except now you will squat down with a big medicine ball in front of you and generate force and power from the legs to fully extend and throw the ball onto the target. Once the ball comes down, you will catch it and repeat the movement like a thruster.

Thruster Muscles Worked

The muscles worked during the thruster include the quads, glutes, calves, shoulders, triceps, and core muscles. As you can see, this is a great full-body exercise.

How To Program The Thruster For CrossFit

what is crossfit thruster

The thruster can be programmed into CrossFit workouts in various ways, depending on the goals and needs of the individual athlete.

If you are trying to build strength, you will program the thruster with heavier weights and low repetitions. Usually, 1-3 reps to build strength. As a strength exercise, this will typically be done at the beginning of your training session when you are still fresh.

To improve your barbell conditioning, you would program the thruster with light weights and high reps, usually around 10-15 reps per set, which would also typically be performed as part of the workout of the day, where it can be combined with numerous exercises to test your fitness.

You can also program the thruster as part of a complex, where you perform multiple exercises with the barbell without putting the barbell down. 

For example, clean + thruster + push press behind the neck is another way to increase strength and barbell conditioning. Complexes are very popular in CrossFit competitions to test the athlete's ability in multiple ways.

It's essential to note that when programming thrusters, it should be tailored to your individual needs, goals, experience level, and fitness level. As with any exercise, the technique should be your number one priority when learning to do the thruster, and the weight should be adjusted accordingly.

I have seen this numerous times in big groups and CrossFit classes where athletes are left to their own devices, and this is not a good decision when dealing with beginner-level athletes. Before adding weight to any exercise, focus first on doing the movement correctly.

Thruster Variations

Dumbbell Thruster

The dumbbell thruster is very similar to the barbell thruster and follows the same concepts regarding how you move. The difference is, however, the dumbbells will be placed on the shoulders where the palms can either be faced towards each other or straight forward.

The dumbbell thruster is an excellent exercise if you are battling with mobility in the overhead position or have limited equipment available.

Kettlebell Thruster

The kettlebell thruster can be done almost the same way as the dumbbell thruster, with the kettlebell resting on the shoulders. However, holding the kettlebells can be more challenging, and I don't always recommend this movement for beginners. The kettlebells will rest on the shoulders with the bell part facing or lying on the outer part of the hands.

Single Arm Dumbbell Thruster

The single-arm dumbbell thruster will be performed very similarly to the dual-arm dumbbell thruster. The only difference is you will have one dumbbell instead of two where the dumbbell is placed on the shoulder when you squat down, and the other hand is generally straight out front to help with balance.

The dumbbell will be pushed to the overhead position when you reach the tall position and will move back down onto the shoulder when you squat.

Single Arm Kettlebell Thruster

The single-arm kettlebell thruster and the single-arm dumbbell thruster will be performed very similarly, with the bell placed on the shoulder when squatting down and the opposite arm placed out front for balance in the movement.

Once you come out of the squat position, you will push the arm with the kettlebell overhead holding the handle, and the bell part will rest on the outer part of the hand.

Plate Thruster

Plate thruster is another variation of the thruster when you have limited equipment or potentially battling with mobility in the squat or overhead position. You will hold the plate with bent arms in front of you, squat down with the plate close to your chest, and push the plate overhead when reaching the tall position.

Wall Ball Thruster

With the wall ball thruster, you will hold the wall ball in front of you with bent arms and resting on your chest. Like a traditional barbell thruster, you will squat down with the wall ball on your chest and push the ball overhead when extending into the tall position.

Goblet Hold Thruster

You can use either a kettlebell or a dumbbell for this exercise. You will hold the dumbbell or kettlebell close to the chest, like a goblet. You will then squat down with the kettlebell or dumbbell on your chest, and as you extend up into the tall position, you will push your arms overhead, extending your arms fully.

Barbell Behind Neck Thruster

The barbell behind the neck thruster follows the same concept as the barbell thruster in the front rack position. However, you will start with the barbell being placed on the back behind the neck.

You will grip the bar just wider than shoulder width, squat down with the bar behind the neck, and push the bar overhead with locked-out arms when reaching the tall position. Lower the bar back onto the traps and repeat the movement for the desired amount of reps you are doing.

The behind-the-neck barbell thruster is a great strength-building exercise. Still, it is recommended to have good shoulder mobility when performing the barbell thruster behind the neck to avoid injuries.


The barbell thruster in CrossFit is a movement that targets multiple muscle groups and improves full-body strength, power, and coordination. It is performed by squatting with a barbell in the front rack position and then driving the weight up overhead with locked arms when reaching the tall position.

It can be programmed into workouts in various ways, such as for strength building, conditioning, or even as part of a complex. It will also be used in conjunction with other movements when performing the workout of the day (WOD, as they call it in CrossFit).

This exercise can also be tailored to an individual needs, goals, and current fitness levels. There are numerous variations of this exercise depending on your available equipment. Equipment like dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, or even a weight plate can be used as a variation of the thruster.

About the Author

Mona is a Bronze Medalist at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. She has been competing Internationally for 20 years in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting and has also been African Champion, Commonwealth Champion, and the youngest South African Weightlifter to compete on the International stage.

Want More Great Content?

Check Out These Articles