Heavy front squats and push presses are two movements that are beneficial for building strength, muscle mass, and athletic potential for strength, power, and fitness sports. Thrusters, often seen in functional fitness WODs, can also be used in strength blocks to build serious functional (and even sport specific) positional strength and power.
In this article, we will discuss what exactly are heavy thrusters, who should do heavy thrusters, and what they can expect to gain from performing this challenging total body exercise.
What Is a Heavy Thruster?
A thruster is a simply a front squat done directly into a push press, in one seamless motion (without stopping in the ascent). Thrusters, in this case done with a barbell, can be done with light, moderating extremely heavy loads, making them a valuable movement for most strength, power, and fitness athletes.
When discussing the “heavy” thruster, we must remember that strength is always relative, meaning one person’s “heavy” may be another person’s light. For the sake of the article, let’s call heavy thrusters any weight above 75% of a thruster one-rep maximum.
Who Can Benefit from Heavy Thrusters?
Heavy thrusters can build strength, power, and serious amounts of muscle mass. That said, we break down who can benefit from these highly challenging movements below!
Strength Athletes (Powerlifting and Strongman)
Not only do heavy thrusters help to build overall strength, it can be a useful exercise to teach strength-speed, add muscle, and improve overall athleticism.
This exercise (when done heavy) is a perfect accessory exercise or variation to improve front rack positioning, squat patterning, and reinforce a vertical torso.
Functional Fitness/CrossFit Athletes
The stronger your thrusters are, the lighter the 95lb ones will feel. In addition, mixing heavier sets of heavy thrusters into workouts will help you gain strength and improve positions that can be then applied to weightlifting movements.
Finding exercises that offer the biggest “bang for your buck” is key when time to workout is not on your side. Instead of performing single joint movements, you can use the thruster (and in heavy loading along the way) to build strength, add muscle, and even burn body fat, all at once. Note, that beginners should learn how to perform the front squat and push press correctly prior to jumping into heavier thruster training.
5 Benefits of Heavy Thrusters
Below are five benefits of the heavy thruster that coaches and strength/power/fitness athletes can expect when performing this challenging, total-body strength movement.
Total Body Power
The thruster is a total body movement that demands high amounts of force output from the quadriceps, hips, and upper body. In addition to strength, the thruster requires an athlete to be able to progressively accelerate a heavy load so that it has enough velocity to be locked out overhead. By performing heavy (and sometimes moderate to heavy thrusters), you can help to increase leg and upper body power in similar ways to speed squats and push presses.
Better Receiving Position in a Clean
Heavy thrusters can improve a lifter’s ability to (1) receive cleans in a better position, (2) increase strength-speed out of the bottom of the squat, and (3) help a lifter establish better balance in both in the receiving and recovery position of clean and jerk (vertical force output).
Heavy thrusters can be placed into clean complexes, done from the rack before front squat training, or simply performed as skill/accessory work.
Heavy lifting has a tendency to develop core stability and strength, regardless of the exercise. Movements that are front loaded, done overhead, or done dynamically further increase these demands. Heavy thrusters challenge the core, obliques, and erectors in the same way front squats and push presses do, with the added stimulus created by dynamic repetitions that require balance and maximal tension development in the core to support transitions from the squat to the press.
Triceps and Shoulder Strength
Overhead pressing and push presses are great movements for increasing shoulder, triceps, and upper body pressing strength. The thruster is often done with much greater amounts of load than the previous two exercises, due to the lifter’s ability to use the low body to assist in accelerating the barbell overhead. The result of such a movement is that the lifter can overload the shoulders and triceps with far greater amounts of volume and loading, both of which impact strength and muscle hypertrophy.
Reinforced Upright Torso in Squats
The thruster is a front squat plus a push press, both of which require a lifter to maintain a vertical back angle in order to effectively move high amounts of load. The thruster is a more dynamic movement than the two, and therefore challenges the lifter to maintain rigidity and positioning at higher velocities. The ability to maintain the torso positioning can have strong carry over to the push press, front squat, and most importantly; the clean, due to the clean having a high dynamic/ballistic component to it.