What the heck is a Thruster?

Thrusters: The lift we love to hate

By Wes Vissor

When you hear the word “Thruster” what is the first thought that comes to mind? Chances are it is probably a four letter word that wouldn’t be appropriate to say in front of your grandmother. Thrusters are one of the most dreaded yet effective movements in all of CrossFit.

When you break it down, a thruster is a simple movement; the combination of a front squat and a push press. The weight that is typically prescribed is usually light to moderate, compared to your push press one rep max and well below your heaviest front squat (more on this later). So if a thruster is just two basic lifts, combined into one fluid movement, at relatively light weight, then what is the big deal with thrusters? Why do they cause a sense of panic and a sudden urge to cherry pick and take a rest day?

Chances are you can attribute your dislike of Thrusters to one of these common errors/mistakes:

Breathing – It may sound crazy, but you wouldn’t believe how often we as coaches see members forgetting to breathe during movements. When you are fully extended and locked out at the top of the thruster this is a great place to inhale. When we exhort force, from the bottom of the squat right through our push press, this is the ideal place to exhale.

Mobility - If you are tight through the thoracic spine or shoulders you may have difficulty getting in the proper front rack position, leading to rapid muscular fatigue by not allowing the bar to rest on the “shelf” and requiring your arms to be under tension throughout the entire movement. If you are tight through the hips then you may have trouble reaching proper depth on your squat and you may struggle to keep your knees wide. Finally, if you have trouble keeping weight on your heels throughout a squat, there is a good chance that you need to work on your ankle mobility.

Rhythm/Tempo - This was a game changer for me. As mentioned above, the weight that is usually prescribed for a Thruster is usually relatively light. This is a good thing, right? It doesn’t take long into your CrossFit journey to realize that lighter weights aren’t necessarily easier. Depending on the desired stimulus, choosing the correct weight can change a workout drastically. If the weight on the bar feels light then you can cycle the movement faster. Some athletes may even find themselves pulling the bar back down just as fast as they are pushing to make up more time. Combine this with the desire of speed and power as you open your hips (that the coach is always reminding you about) and you can cycle through thrusters at a ridiculously fast rhythm/tempo….until your heart rate catches up. You all know exactly what I’m talking about because you’ve been there too, and that means you also understand when your heart rate is redlined how difficult it is to pick the barbell back up.

Next time thrusters are in the wod try and slow down your cadence. You don’t even need to slow it down much to see a drastic change in keeping your heart rate under control. It’s also vital that you don’t lose any speed out of your squat and into your press, as your hips open. Remember to breathe. Focus on your breathing throughout the movement. And finally, always continue work on your mobility. If you would like a drill or movement to work on one of the above or another problem area don’t hesitate to ask any one of the knowledgeable coaches at CrossFit Insight.  

When I first started CrossFit Thrusters were one of my least favorite movements. Through lots of trial and error, I have found that these tips have helped me. I know that Thrusters are a movement that we all love to hate, but like me, I hope you will learn to love to hate them a little less.