6 Benefits of Kettlebell Thrusters

Master this movement for better core, grip, and upper back strength.

The single kettlebell thruster and double kettlebell thruster offer techniques that can help stave off injury across multiple sports and various athletics. Additionally, there are a series of benefits that result from mastering the kettlebell thruster movement. Employing both versions of the dumbbell thruster into your programming with consistent form can lead to improvements in six areas of training that can translate to not only other movements but other workouts and athletic competitions.

To be blunt, thrusters can be difficult and, therefore, not the most enjoyable movement to train. But the benefits they offer make them worth adding to your training routine despite any distaste you might have for them. There are six benefits, in particular, that you are likely to gain by utilizing consistent and progressive training with the kettlebell thruster movement:

Kettlebell Thruster Benefits

  1. Scapular Stabilization
  2. Core Strength
  3. Improved Bracing
  4. Overhead Stability
  5. Improved Squat Patterning
  6. Stronger Grip and Upper Back

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1. More Scapular Stability

The front rack position in the kettlebell thruster demands upper back control and scapular stabilization. The ability to contract and reinforce sound posture under load unilaterally (meaning on one side of the body) will drastically increase bilateral abilities. This means a stronger front squat, rack pull, and more. In addition, using the kettlebell for a thruster trains scapular retraction and protraction and offers a fuller range of motion than a barbell cannot.

When the kettlebell is in an overhead position, the athlete can keep their scapula “packed” and still internally or externally rotate the shoulder. For example, kettlebell thrusters with the hand facing inward still requires scapular stability but will utilize more of the front delt in the press. This is not an available variation when using a barbell which requires the hands to remain in one fixed position and, therefore, the shoulders as well.

2. A Stronger Core

Front-loaded positions challenge the core and require sufficient back strength to maintain a stable and upright position. The kettlebell thruster demands stability from the abdominals and obliques to keep the torso from tilting to one side during the press — or tipping forward in the case of the double kettlebell thruster. Since the kettlebells are independent of one another, both sides of the back and the entire core must remain engaged in a supported position. 

When done properly, kettlebell thrusters should translate to better symmetry when working with a barbell to enable a cleaner bar path. In addition, a stronger core allows the athlete to remain in a tighter position to knock out more reps or, as often seen in competitive CrossFit® workouts, perform thrusters unbroken.

Double Kettlebell Thruster
Image via Shutterstock/antoniodiaz

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3. You’ll Learn to Brace Better

Bracing is the ability to contract the muscles in the lower back and stomach to increase intraabdominal pressure, often through the Valsalva maneuver — pressurizing the entire midsection, holding breath, and forcing the air against a closed glottis — for more stability during lifts.

The kettlebell thruster requires an athlete to brace properly. Doing so helps withstand the front-load while cycling between contractions to allow rhythmic breathing to keep from fatiguing too quickly. This will also help maintain a steady pace and allow better fluidity to the movement. Much like higher repetition, heavy back squats, single and/or double kettlebell thrusters can help athletes brace properly and improve their ability to brace over time.

4. More Overhead Stability

Most overhead movements, when done correctly, naturally increase overhead stability. However, kettlebell thrusters take it one step further. When pressing a kettlebell overhead, the slight external rotation at the shoulder joint required to secure the kettlebell safely can enhance mind-muscle connection. This can translate to other similar overhead movements like the dumbbell snatch. Thus, the kettlebell thruster reinforces sound external rotation and develops unilateral strength, balance, and proprioception that a barbell would otherwise leave untrained.

To reiterate, this is presuming that the form is correct. Make sure that your shoulder and back mobility is sufficient to achieve proper form. Furthermore, make sure you understand how to externally rotate your shoulder from the rack position to the overhead position before utilizing heavier kettlebells.

Shoulder Mobility
Image via Shutterstock/Dusan Petkovic

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5. You’ll Become a Squat Master

When performing thrusters with a barbell as part of a timed workout, such as a CrossFit WOD, the constant up-and-down movement can either make or break an efficient time. In addition, depending on leg strength and ability to find the squat groove — which aims to prevent wasted energy from unnecessary movement — kettlebell thrusters can aid in squat patterning. Squat patterning is the athlete’s ability to apply a stable base during a squat via proper alignment of the ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders. Functionally, it compels the lifter to remain upright at both the top and bottom of the squat.

Beacuse kettlebell thrusters help improve scapular stabilization, core strength, and bracing, they naturally result in improved squat patterning. The point is: Thrusters force you to squat a lot, and so, over time, you’ll get a lot better at squats. 

6. A Stronger Grip and Upper Back

The kettlebell is a great tool to increase grip strength, postural control, and back strength. During a kettlebell thruster, the lifter must maintain rigidity throughout the body to secure the kettlebell but still allow for some fluidity. During heavy sets and/or prolonged movements, the kettlebell handle can become rather difficult to grip. However, with that difficulty is the potential for improved grip strength and wrist joint integrity. Additionally, 

Enhance Your Functional Fitness

At the end of the day, kettlebell thrusters are a great way to increase your fitness in terms of strength, functional movement, and neural function, in addition to all previously discussed benefits. Incorporating dumbbell thrusters into your training routine can positively impact other important lifts such as the back squat and overhead press. Remember to learn proper form and acquire requisite shoulder and back mobility before increasing to heavier dumbbells or increasing higher volume sets.

Featured Image: Shutterstock/antoniodiaz