For years I got crushed when I did a CrossFit thruster. For some reason I couldn’t seem to figure out how to do the movement without feeling like I was going to absolutely explode from fatigue and the movement quickly become something that I dreaded when I saw them in my programming. Unfortunately in CrossFit, or any sport really, you can’t just skip out on a movement because it crushes your soul. You need to practice and practice until you start crushing it, right? Right. Let’s get into the benefits and techniques so that you can master your CrossFit thrusters from here on out like a boss.
What Is A Barbell Thruster
A barbell thruster is a compound exercise seen in CrossFit that combines together the front squat and the overhead press into one single movement. The movement begins in the standing front rack position and ends with the body in a full lockout with the barbell overhead, hips and legs extended. This movement can be performed as a dumbbell thruster, barbell thruster, single arm thruster, and kettlebell thruster.
PRO TIP: Make sure that before you get into the actual movement you do a good job warming up the legs, hips, wrists and shoulders to avoid injury in this compound movement.
What Are The Benefits Of The CrossFit Thruster
Performing the CrossFit thruster goes way beyond just being a baddie in the gym. The movement itself incorporates basic movements that help us move throughout our regular life and daily movements, too. Whether it is getting a new PR in a workout or picking up a box from the ground and putting it on a high shelf in the garage, let’s get into more of the benefits of the barbell thruster and why you should definitely not avoid them.
1. Burn More Calories
Embracing the CrossFit thruster in your programming is a no brainer because it is a difficult movement. If the movement wasn’t difficult, you probably wouldn’t do it. If it wasn’t challenging, you wouldn’t get better. Right? So here’s another benefit that might motivate you - you’re going to increase your metabolic rate meaning you’re going to burn more calories not just during the workout but thereafter as well. Doing compound movements for time or reps requires getting your heart rate up. As your heart rate increases, so does your oxygen intake and energy demands. So not only will you improve your aerobic capacity and cardiovascular health, but you’ll burn more calories that work towards that overall look and healthy status you may be looking to achieve with your workouts.
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2. Improved Proprioception and Coordination
You’ll probably be able to squat heavier weight, but you’ll need to keep it lighter in order to get the weight overhead, meaning that you’re going to be aware of the way your body moves with the weight across different parts and strengths of your body (this means your proprioception is going to increase). Not only that, but your coordination across the movement, getting the barbell from the front rack position, up to the overhead position, and back into the front squat position, is going to require coordination. The more you practice, the better awareness, proprioception, and coordination you will achieve.
3. Improved Athletic Performance
With more awareness of the body, more coordination and strength, and better cardiovascular capacity, your athletic performance is going to improve not just for this compound movement, but overall. With a stronger front squat, shoulders, glutes and core strength, you’ll be able to support more loads in other movements such as front rack lunges, box jumps, shoulder presses, overhead squats, and more. You’ll also be able to take in more oxygen for those lung burner workouts so that you can train harder, longer, and achieve more results from your hard work.
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4. Build a Bigger Butt
By embracing barbell thrusters, especially heavy barbell thrusters in your workouts, you’re going to place a lot of demand on the glutes aka the booty muscles. When you do this, rep by rep you’re going to build a bigger butt. Now you might not think this is a big deal, but building a bigger butt is so much more than just aesthetics. With bigger glute muscles you’ll have a bigger squat, better athletic capacity, and be able to stabilize the hips through movements like box jumps and handstand walks, for example.
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5. Better Force and Max Power Output
The CrossFit thruster is a great way to maximize power output and force generation by recruiting a host of muscles throughout the upper and lower body. Whether you’re performing heavy thrusters or light weight barbell thrusters, your body requires power and force to progressively accelerate the barbell as well as enough velocity to reach the full lockout position overhead for the rep to count. The last thing you want to do is be able to squat the weight, but not drive with the hips and legs, meaning you have to press out and muscle up the barbell overhead. Yikes! Since this is where people usually get injured the most, the more that you can work on the movement and the quickness of it, developing that total body power, the more fluid the movement will get and the less chance of injury you’ll have altogether.
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What Muscles Does The Barbell Thruster Work?
The thruster itself is a full body compound movement that works muscles from the top of the body all the way to the bottom. You’re going to need to call on your coordination and power generated from the hips to get through this movement.
Shoulders And Arms
The CrossFit thruster, regardless of the equipment you’re using for it, is going to call on the shoulders and arms greatly regardless of it being a more leg-driven exercise. The shoulders and arms, specifically the traps, deltoids, and triceps, are going to provide stability with the weight in the squat as well as come into play as you extend the arms overhead, reaching the full lockout position. We definitely recommend warming up the shoulders well and maintaining good posture through the movement as the shoulders are going to get fatigued quickly when extending and bringing the weight back down to ascend into the squat for your next rep. That being said, as you build up strength in the arms and back, you’ll see this strength translate into other movements, like pull ups, wall balls, hand stand push ups, the overhead squat, as well as other compound movements like the clean and jerk.
In Short: Deltoid (anterior/front, medial/side, posterior/rear), triceps
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Core And Back
In addition to the shoulders and arms, the core and back musculature is called upon to successfully support, stabilize, and power the CrossFit thruster effectively and efficiently. Since you are generating force from the lower body to the upper body throughout the movement, your core and back are going to bridge the gap from your lower body to your upper body, stabilizing the spine.
In Short: Core and back (rectus abdominis, erector spinae, transverse abdomens, obliques)
Glutes And Legs
Since the bulk of this movement is lower body dominant, the muscles of the lower body are called upon to not only catch the weight on the way back down, but forcefully generate power to get that weight back overhead. You can think of the arms as doing 25% of the work with 75% of the work being done by the lower body. Just like a squat, the quads are responsible for extending the knees and providing flexion of the hip joint. The hamstrings are going to really assist with the hip extension and power required from this area of the body. The glutes are going to compliment the work done by the hamstrings in generating force and power for moving the bar from the lower body to the upper body successfully as well as initiating the load down from the upper body back into the front rack squat position to successfully complete the CrossFit thruster movement.
In Short: Quadriceps (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, vastus intermedius), hamstrings (biceps femoris, seymimembranousus, semitendinosus), glutes (minimus, medius, and maximus)
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How To Do CrossFit Thrusters
While you might now understand just how many muscles the CrossFit thruster works, you may not know how to do it. If you do know how to do it, you might not know how to do it well. So let’s get into how to do CrossFit thrusters so that you crush the weight and don’t in turn get crushed instead.
1. Front Rack Position
Approach the bar with feet at about shoulder width distance. Put your hands on the barbell and clean the bar to a front rack position with the elbows high. If you’re not sure about cleaning the weight you can also get into the starting position from the barbell from the rack.
From the front rack position, with the elbows high and the eyes forward, you’re going to descend into a squat. Knees should be out, back should be strong, and shoulders should not be rolling forward. Weight should be over mid foot.
3. Hip Drive
From the squat position you’re going to move into the concentric part of the lift. Pressing through the feet, legs, and hips, drive the body straight up. The legs are big muscles and you’re going to want to be powerful through this movement, this is called the leg drive and is where the majority of the ‘oomph’ of the movement is going to come from (remember that 75% lower body concept?)
4. Push Through
As the barbell moves from the hips to the upper body and eventually overhead, this is where the extention in the knees, hips, glutes, and core are really going to come into play. This lockout, as you press with the shoulders and triceps, is going to be what gets the bar overhead. Remember - you want to stay in a straight line, avoiding the bar going behind you or too far in front of you. Don’t forget to move your head back and out of the way, then as the bar gets over your head, punch the head forward to complete the movement.
As the bar comes overhead you’re going to want to fully straighten the whole body, but only for a few seconds, until you let the gravity of the bar come back down to the shoulders and into the squat of the movement for the next rep. Don’t forget to lock out the legs, then the arms, to fully use your lower body and biggest muscles to assist with the CrossFit Thruster.
CrossFit Thrusters: Takeaway
Well, all in all, the biggest thing you shouldn’t do with CrossFit Thrusters is avoid them. The other thing you should do? Start with lighter weight. The biggest mistake with this movement is that people load up too much weight on the barbell, because they can squat it, neglecting that they can’t get that same weight overhead. In order to receive the athletic performance, balance, coordination and strength benefits, start light, work on form, and do this movement regularly.
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