Thruster – Exercise Guide, Muscles Worked, and Sport Application

The thruster, also known as a squat press and/or clean into press, has been around in fitness, Olympic weightlifting (yes, keep reading), and human movement for…years. In this article, we are going to break down the thruster movement (I say movement vs. exercise because the thruster can include many exercise variations; see below) and all that you need to know to integrate it into your current training routine.

Muscles Worked

The thruster is a dynamic movement that challenges the entire body to move in a coordinated effort to promote force with the legs, core, and upper body. Below is a breakdown of the primary muscle groups involved in this exercise.

  • Quadriceps
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Erectors
  • Abdominals and Obliques
  • Shoulders
  • Triceps
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Trapexius

Thruster Movement Demo

Below are a few thruster demos, each showcasing proper form with the barbell, dumbbell, and kettlebell. The thruster, like the squat and/or deadlift, is a movement pattern, which means it can be done in a wide array of variations. Specificity is key when programming such, however, any of the following thruster movements (variations) will offer similar benefits, with the exception that a certain variation may have greater application to some athletes (for example the barbell and weightlifters).

Barbell Thruster

Kettlebell Thruster

Dumbbell Thruster

Why (and Who) Should Do Them

Below are some reasons why strength, power, and fitness athletes can benefit from performing the thruster, either heavy, light, slow, or fast.

Powerlifters and Strongman

Aside from using thrusters as a low-impact conditioning tool to increase dynamic movement, caloric expenditure, and a great primer movement before squats, the thruster can also be done to enhance aggression out of the bottom of the squat and overload the press out position of the overhead press (even more so than the push press, as the lifter can use leg strength more). Lastly, increasing work capacity and basic fitness farther out from competition can increase a lifter’s ability to adapt and recover from harder training sessions to come in the future, making thrusters a great total body and dynamic movement to include in most athletes training toolbox.


In weightlifting, the thruster can be a beneficial exercise to train the receiving position and recovery in the clean. Since Olympic weightlifting is a strength-based sport, doping higher repetitions with lighter loads will generally not have as drastic of an impact (on sport specificity) on performance as doing loading in the 60-75% range of one’s clean and jerk max for 1-3 repetitions. The thruster, which can be done directly after a clean (also called a “cluster”) works to help the lifter increase strength and speed at the onset of the catch (or bottom position in the clean) to decelerate the downwards movement of the barbell and reverse the direction.

Secondly, the necessity of the thruster to be as vertical as possible to allow for completion of the heavy loads overhead, the lifter is forced to fight themselves as vertical as possible and finish upwards in the drive phase of the thruster, which is nearly identical to that of the jerk. Lastly, the thruster can also be performed from the racks to develop leg strength and power with lifters who struggle out of the hole in the squat and/or staying vertical while front squatting.

Functional Fitness Athletes

CrossFit and competitive functional fitness athletes know all too well the sport specific need to be efficient and strong at thrusters, wither with the barbell, dumbbell, and kettlebell. In the 2017 CrossFit Open, dumbbell movements were at the forefront, imposing a different stimulus than similar barbell movements. Nonetheless, thrusters (any variation) is a necessary and vital movement to develop work capacity, leg endurance, movement coordination, and sport specific efficiency. Additionally, functional fitness athletes can also benefit from doing heavy thrusters for the same reasons as Olympic weightlifters (benefit the clean and jerk).

General Fitness and Movement

While general fitness and movement enthusiasts can benefit from thruster for all the same reason above, one of the most foundational benefits is the the thruster is an all inclusive movement that can be trained across a wide array of variations (barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, unilateral, etc). The ability of a person to have coordinated total body movements throughout the full range of motion in a cyclical fashion is key to expression of strength, mobility, power, body awareness and control, endurance, stamina, and aerobic capacity.

Metabolic Movements Galore!

Check out these metabolic movements and workouts to build serious muscle, work capacity, and more!

Featured Image: @squatsandpixels 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.