The Thruster – 7 Ways to Improve your Technique

A combination of a front squat and a push press, this exercise is a common sight in Crossfit WODs all around the world. Make sure your technique is on point.

What do Kalsu, Fran and Jackie have in common? Thrusters.

The starting position for a thruster is the front squat, but to get into it you need to load the bar on your shoulders using the clean. Also to reach a valid rep the bar needs to finish overhead with elbows extended and locked. Sounds easy, but these get brutal when combined with chest-to-bar pull ups, burpees or other fun exercises.

The following reasons (with tips) should help you cycle through your thruster MetCon workouts a bit faster, with much more ease and efficiency.

1. Your front squat needs more work

Foundations for thrusters are built with front squats: a squat variation where the barbell is positioned on your (front) shoulders. Which means your torso needs to be upright, so the weight is balanced properly.

To keep the torso upright, you need sufficient mobility in your ankles and hips, and good core strength that will allow you to control the weight and movement.In general, the demand for overall mobility is much higher than with back squats.

In the bottom position make sure you keep the weight on your heels. Engage your core and drive up with your hips. Learn how to activate and use both with these areas of your body throughout the movement. Your thrusters will benefit from strength built with front squats.

2. Your front rack mobility is a challenge

Insufficient front rack mobility is a common reason why so many athletes struggle with either front squats or thrusters. The bar needs to rest on your shoulders, you should look for a “comfortable” position which feels strong where your arms only control – not carry – the bar/weight.

So if your torso is upright, your shoulders, wrist and arms in general need to be mobile enough to only control the position of the barbell. Until the top position of the squat, your torso carries the weight. If you find the grip difficult, try these tips.

Kelly Starrett’s tutorials to help you with front rack positioning:

Also regular work on front squats will eventually improve your rack mobility as heavier weight will force you to hold the bar in a more efficient way.

3. The bar starts to slide down off your shoulders

Inappropriate rack position, limited overall mobility and a forward tilted torso will cause the bar to start slipping off your shoulders. Fixing it during the WOD will therefore cost you extra strength and energy, and also disturb your focus.

In the bottom squat position your elbows needs to stay up, whether doing front squats or thrusters. Focus on keeping the bar fixed well on your shoulders, and be accurate with receiving it in this position as well. Rather slow down the tempo and perfect the movement than speed up and lose control.

4. Your push press needs more work as well

The Push press is the second part of the thruster. Starting from the bottom position, engage your core and glutes, drive up (explode out of the bottom) with your hips and thrust the bar overhead. Don’t strict press it as you’ll eventually, especially with high volume thrusters, burn out.

Like in many other Crossfit MetCon’s movements you have to look for efficiency, using less strength and more weightless momentum to last longer. Same goes for thursters: generate the power by standing up from the squat and use it to “throw” the weight overhead.

Learn the push press and it’s characteristics. Stand in a hip-width position, keep the weight on your heels. Dip and drive up to push the barbell up. Understand the difference between shoulder press and push press. Also, learn to feel that difference.

5. You lose balance? Put on Oly shoes

Weightlifting exercises should look perfect and well controlled. So if your regular training shoes feel too “soft” to keep you in a solid position, put on the oly shoes. The hard, solid heel will help you stay balanced throughout the movement. Trying to maintain balance doesn’t just cost your extra energy and focus, but also increases the risk for potential injuries. No balance, no control.

6. You begin too fast? Don’t start unbroken

You might go unbroken for the first round, but you’ll definitely break down later. The thruster is a metabolic conditioning exercise which requires proper pacing and a smart approach when being completed in higher numbers of reps. 

Always be accurate with the standards for valid reps. Extend elbows at the top, reach below parallel for the squat at the bottom.

7. Don’t forget about the cleans – they also need more work

Thrusters start with cleaning the weight into the front squat position. Clean directly into the squat, don’t power clean it. If you have issues with that, you have to strengthen your clean technique to confidently receive the weight in the bottom front squat position.

Read more: Thruster – learn how to like it

In the following video Barbell Shrugged team talks about thruster and give their tips for Fran, where they break down the necessary mobility, technique and pacing.

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About The Author

Editor-In-Chief at BOXROX. I come from a background of rugby and weightlifting. Growing up in the English Lake District, I spent a great deal of time swimming in its stunning lakes and rivers. In 2015 my brothers and I became the first people to swim the 145km length of the River Eden, from source to mouth, in 9 days. We also swam the Corryvreckan whirlpool, the third largest in the world, and Crossfit is a huge part of my training for these events.

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