Thrusters are one of the most popular movements used in CrossFit. The difficulty of the thruster should be modified to properly and safely challenge the fitness level of the individual athlete. Combining a front squat and push press into one movement creates a potent demand on the legs, lungs, and shoulders, building incredible mobility, strength, and overall fitness.
Below are 10 thruster workouts that could be modified to be inclusive to any individual, regardless of their current fitness level. We’ve broken things down into beginner, intermediate and advanced levels to keep things simple.
Beginner Thruster Workouts
- Beginner Thruster Workout for Technique
- Beginner Thruster Workout for Muscle Endurance
- Beginner Thruster Workout for Strength
Intermediate Thruster Workouts
- Intermediate Workout One — Fran
- Intermediate Workout Two — Open 17.5
- Intermediate Workout Three — Thrusters & Rowing
Advanced Thruster Workouts
- Advanced Thruster Workout One — Kalsu
- Advanced Thruster Workout Two — Thrusters & Bar Muscle Ups
- Advanced Thruster Workout Three — Thrusters & Legless Rope Climbs
- Advanced Thruster Workout Four — 2021 CF Games Event Four
Before divining into the workout specifics, let’s examine what thrusters are and how to perform them effectively.
How to Do the Thruster
The thruster is a versatile movement performed with a barbell, sandbag, dumbbells, or kettlebells. The essential performance points remain the same, regardless of what object is used to load the body.
- Rest the weighted object on the shoulders in front of the body (front rack position)
- Set the feet in a shoulder-width squat stance.
- Send the hips back and down into a squat until the hip descends lower than the knees.
- Keep the torso upright through the squat with the knees tracking in line over the toes.
- Extend the hips and knees rapidly — fully extend the hips, followed by the arms extending overhead into an overhead press.
- Complete the movement via total hip, knee, and arm extension.
The foundation of the thruster is a solid air squat. Be sure that you have mastered the basic air squat, front squat, shoulder press, and push press. Utilizing these foundations in your warm-ups before thruster workouts is a great way to refine technique and improve positions before the intensity of a workout.
Benefits of Thrusters
Performing thrusters with light weights for high reps is a great way to target endurance and capacity. The explosive nature of the movement puts a greater demand on each rep than traditional cyclical movements like running, rowing, biking, etc. This forces a higher level of intensity, targeting the higher output side of endurance.
Increased Lean Muscle Mass
Due to the extended range of motion, the thruster elicits a considerable neuroendocrine adaptation, meaning it causes a change in the body neurologically or hormonally. One of the positive benefits of this adaptation is a positive hormonal response, resulting in improved lean muscle mass.
Full Body Strength
CrossFit has been unique in its full-body approach to training, not previously popular for body part training splits. The physiques that CrossFit training has produced speak for themselves, but the bang-for-buck return on the universal development of both the upper and lower body from each thruster rep performed is worth noting.
Beginner Thruster Workouts
The beginner workouts below are written as progressions, with each workout building off the previous. It’s essential to continuously learn and practice with good form before introducing fatigue, intensity, or heavy weights. Fitness is a lifelong journey, and the functional movements used in CrossFit can be potent for beginners. Progressing slowly and listening to the body is a key to moving from a beginner to an intermediate athlete.
The front rack used for a barbell front squat and thruster requires good flexibility in the wrists, forearms, and shoulders. Learning this on a barbell can be frustrating and uncomfortable for beginners looking to have a safe, comfortable first experience with thrusters. Substituting dumbbells for a barbell can allow the individual to be more comfortable and focus more on the correct positions and timing of learning the thruster.
Below is a workout that could be used for an absolute beginner, with the goal of practicing the thruster technique. The ring rows and recovery row are two low-skill movements that slowly introduce the circuit-style nature of CrossFit workouts. The AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) format allows for the athlete to work at a pace that is comfortable for them.
As many rounds and reps as possible in 10 minutes:
- 10 Dumbbell Thrusters (use a weight that you can perform 10 reps unbroken)
- 10 Ring Rows
- 1:00 Recovery Row
Once someone is familiar with the technique of the thruster, it is good for them to practice the movement and learn how to maintain proper form while fatigued. This is also an excellent time to introduce the barbell. Depending on the individual’s fitness journey, a PVC pipe can be substituted if an empty barbell is too heavy. Most fitness equipment companies now build training bars that only weigh 15 pounds, so this could also be a good bridge between the PVC and a fully weighted barbell.
Three rounds, each for time:
- 15 Barbell Thrusters (goal is unbroken)
- 1:00 Echo Bike or Concept 2 Bike Calories
- 1:00 Rest
The focus of this workout is combining two consecutive leg movements back-to-back. The bike calories are prescribed as time, but whatever number of calories the athlete hits in the first round is what they should repeat for rounds two and three. The minute of rest allows three unbroken sets of thrusters to focus on building muscle endurance and introduce the “burn” often felt during CrossFit workouts.
Strength workouts should always allow the form to dictate the weights used. The goal is to move well and be safe, letting strength naturally happen over time with consistent practice. The below workout should be based on feel, working up to something moderately challenging but not heavy enough to break down technique.
Once this weight is found for five reps, start a running clock and perform five thrusters and five chin-ups every three minutes for five sets (15 minutes). Depending on the fitness level and strength of the individual, the chin-ups can be modified to band-assisted or ring rows.
Every 3:00 for five sets
- Five Barbell Thrusters (from a rack)
- Five Strict Chin-ups (band assistance if needed) or 10 Ring Rows
Intermediate Thruster Workouts
As someone moves from a beginner to intermediate athlete, they’ve mastered the movement technique and are now using threshold training to increase their fitness. This means finding the correct intensity to drive positive adaptations in fitness. Below are three classic CrossFit thruster workouts that utilize a light barbell, allowing high-intensity training.
[Related: The Buttery Bros Release Documentary-Style Recap Vlog of the 2022 CrossFit Games]
“Fran” is one of the most popularly known workouts by the global CrossFit community. The simple couplet of thrusters and pull-ups allows for extremely high intensity. The goal of this workout is to finish in roughly two to six minutes, not breaking more than two times per movement.
For example, the round of 21 thrusters and pull-ups should be completed in no more than three sets of seven reps. The weights can be modified to preserve the intended stimulus of the workout. The pull-ups can also be performed as banded or jumping reps if the individual is not in a place yet where they can achieve more extensive sets of pull-ups.
The Workout — Fran
21-15-9 reps for time of:
- Thrusters — Male athletes: 95 pounds | Female athletes: 65 pounds
The CrossFit Open is an annual virtual competition where hundreds of thousands of CrossFitters around the globe participate with their gyms to test their fitness at the start of each CrossFit Games season. Open workout 17.5 was one of the more memorable thruster workouts, maintaining the classic simplicity and elegance of a CrossFit thruster workout.
The goal of this workout is to do nearly all the work unbroken, moving through the 10 rounds as quickly as possible.
The Workout — Open Workout 17.5
10 rounds for time:
- Nine Thrusters — Male athletes: 95 pounds | Female athletes: 65 pounds
- 35 Double-Unders
A common misconception is that more weight means a more strenuous workout. CrossFit utilizes light, moderate and heavy weights to balance development in endurance, stamina, and strength. Below is a straightforward stamina workout, where the focus is to do every round of thrusters unbroken. The row should be completed at a pace that allows you to recover enough to do your thrusters unbroken. Focus on how fast you can row without blowing up and crossing the famous “red line.”
50-40-30-20-10 reps for time of:
- Thrusters — Male athletes: 45 pounds | Female athletes: 35 pounds
- Row Calories (W calories (40-32-24-16-8 )
If you break in any thruster rounds, perform a 200-meter penalty run before continuing your workout.
Advanced Thruster Workouts
Building off the intermediate level, we can make thruster workouts more challenging by increasing weight and reps and pairing the thrusters with high-skill movements. Below are four advanced thruster workouts that should be built up to and adequately modified based on the individual’s fitness level.
Kalsu is known as one of the most painful thruster workouts ever created. The heavier barbell requires more energy, and the on-the-minute burpees force a faster pace than most are comfortable with. Be sure to have a game plan and use your warm-up to strategize how many thrusters you will shoot for each minute.
The Workout — Kalsu
- 100 Barbell Thrusters — Male athletes: 135 pounds | Female athletes: 95 pounds
Perform five burpees at the top of every minute and continue until 100 thrusters have been completed.
Combining thrusters with a high-skill gymnastics movement creates a unique challenge for cardiorespiratory and muscular endurance. The heavier barbell in this workout means more breaks on each round of thrusters. Depending on the athlete performing this workout, the strategy would be to push your strengths and manage the more challenging movement.
A stronger athlete should focus on big thruster sets and game-planning breaks on the bar muscle ups. Conversely, a lighter athlete more proficient at gymnastics will want to push the muscle ups and have planned breaks for each round of thrusters.
15-12-9-6-3 reps for time of:
- Bar Muscle-Ups
- Thrusters — Male athletes: 155 pounds | Female athletes: 105 pounds
This workout was tested at the 2013 CrossFit Games, showing another beautiful evolution of thrusters paired with a pulling gymnastics movement into a couplet. The lighter barbell is set at a high rep count that should be pushed and not broken more than once per round. The legless reps will need to be managed depending if this movement is a strength or weakness for the individual.
- 27-21-15-9 Thrusters — Male athletes: 95 pounds | Female athletes: 65 pounds
- 4-3-2-1 Legless Rope Climbs
The combination of wall walks and thrusters during event four of the 2021 CrossFit Games presented a new challenge for athletes. This couplet has a significant degree of interference with the muscular endurance of the shoulders. The time under tension in the shoulders, combined with a high volume (55 reps per movement), and heavy loading (male athletes: 185 pounds, female athletes: 135 pounds), makes this an extremely advanced workout.
10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 reps for time of:
- Wall Walks
- Thrusters — Male athletes: 185 pounds | Female athletes: 135 pounds
Get to Work
The thruster is a potent movement that should be introduced and progressed slowly. The movement can be loaded into light, moderate and heavy sessions to target different benefits. When starting this movement, be sure you have mastered the foundational components: the air squat, front squat, shoulder press, and push press.
Spend time refining these basics before diving into high-intensity training with thrusters. The degree to which you master these foundations will dictate how efficient and comfortable higher skill movements like the thruster will feel.
Featured image via Shutterstock/Jacob Lund