Dumbbell Thrusters – Exercise Guide and Benefits

Moving an object from a squatted position to overhead is one of the most challenging and exhausting movements we can do. The thruster is a movement popularized by competitive fitness sports, however it has been around as a simple squat into overhead pressing movement for…ever.

While barbells are often the most commonly seen way to perform these, other objects, such as dumbbells, can offer the same benefit to lifters AND then some!

Therefore, in this article we will discuss the benefits of performing dumbbell thrusters and what you need to know when doing them.

What Is a Thruster?

Simply put, a thruster is a front squat into an overhead push press movement. The athlete starts similar to a front squat, and after descending into the bottom of the squat they start to accelerate aggressively upwards using the legs and hips while keeping the back vertical. Upon the athlete finishing explosively upwards with the legs, they should finish the lift with a shoulder pressing motion.

This movement can be used to increase fitness, cardiovascular endurance, and sport specific performance in CrossFit training and yes, even Olympic weightlifting. Thrusters can be used in weightlifter to help those lifters who are slow out of the squat when recovering from cleans and/or those lifters who fail to use their legs when performing jerks and push presses.

In the above video, Jason Khalipa discusses some of his tips for performing light and fast thrusters, whereas in the video below Olympic weightlifter, Dmitry Klokov shows us how thrusters can be done with some serious, serious weight… 385lb to be exact.

Why Use Dumbbells for Thrusters?

The benefits of the thruster movement can be expanded when an athlete/coach choose to use dumbbells, which are listed below.

Unilateral Benefits

The benefits of unilateral training is described here, with the dumbbell thruster offering those attributes to those who perform them. Whether done with one arm at a time, or two, the muscles and neural systems are trained adequately.

Additionally, the ability to address asymmetries that may go unnoticed when training with a singular piece of equipment (like the barbell) can help to maximize injury resilience, coordination, and muscular development.

Individualized Wrist and Shoulder Positioning

At some point in an athlete’s or trainees fitness there will come a time when the barbell will not be available and/or injury to the shoulder and wrist may make the barbell variation unbearable. The dumbbells will allow for a wide array of wrist angle and overhead positionings that can be altered to best “fit” the athlete. For this same reason, increased joint stabilization can occur in varying positions to maximize joint capsule and movement Integrity as well.

Increased Neural Stimulus

Like any new movement, the neurological systems adapt to the new imbalances, proprioception, and stability demands. By doing so with two independent dumbbells, the lifter must solidify proper technique and stability with both sides of the body to synchronize the motion as a whole. Once developed, transitioning to the barbell (or another fixed object) will prove to be less challenging (in terms of stability and coordination).

Dumbbell Thruster Exercise Demo

Here’s a clear and concise exercise demonstration by Matt Chan on how to properly perform the dumbbell thruster.

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Featured Image: @crossfitbell on Instagram

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Mike holds a Master's in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Mike has been with BarBend since 2016, where he covers Olympic weightlifting, sports performance training, and functional fitness. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and is the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at New York University, in which he works primarily with baseball, softball, track and field, cross country. Mike is also the Founder of J2FIT, a strength and conditioning brand in New York City that offers personal training, online programs for sports performance, and has an established USAW Olympic Weightlifting club.In his first two years writing with BarBend, Mike has published over 500+ articles related to strength and conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, strength development, and fitness. Mike’s passion for fitness, strength training, and athletics was inspired by his athletic career in both football and baseball, in which he developed a deep respect for the barbell, speed training, and the acquisition on muscle.Mike has extensive education and real-world experience in the realms of strength development, advanced sports conditioning, Olympic weightlifting, and human movement. He has a deep passion for Olympic weightlifting as well as functional fitness, old-school bodybuilding, and strength sports.Outside of the gym, Mike is an avid outdoorsman and traveller, who takes annual hunting and fishing trips to Canada and other parts of the Midwest, and has made it a personal goal of his to travel to one new country, every year (he has made it to 10 in the past 3 years). Lastly, Mike runs Rugged Self, which is dedicated to enjoying the finer things in life; like a nice glass of whiskey (and a medium to full-bodied cigar) after a hard day of squatting with great conversations with his close friends and family.