How to Do Barbell Thrusters

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

A woman doing weightlifting in her backyard.
Getty Image / Aleksander Jankovic.

Also Known As: Thruster, squat-and-press

Targets: Quads, glutes, core, shoulders, arms, back

Equipment Needed: Barbell, plates, and barbell clips

Level: Intermediate

If there’s one movement synonymous with CrossFit, it’s the thruster. Okay—maybe also the kipping pull-up or handstand push-up—but the thruster is a pretty well-known exercise and a ubiquitously revered challenge among CrossFitters. 

Thrusters are known for their hard-hitting ability to induce a burn in both your legs and lungs within seconds. They’re known for taxing your entire body and making any CrossFit WoD a little less enjoyable (or more enjoyable, if you’re into that sort of thing). CrossFit itself calls thrusters "the most draining of all exercises."

This isn't to scare you away from thrusters, but to help you realize how effective of an exercise they really are.

Thrusters are a good addition to the intermediate and advanced exerciser’s rotation. Beginners can enjoy this move, too, as long as they take care to perfect the technique before adding weight. In this guide to barbell thrusters, learn about all the benefits they offer, how to perform them, and how to avoid common mistakes—then put it all into action with some workouts. 

Benefits

Because barbell thrusters work every muscle group (yes, every muscle group: even your lower legs and forearms), they bring a lot of benefits to the table. 

Leg Strength

Looking for an intense leg burn? Look no further than barbell thrusters. This front squat-barbell press combo produces a muscle burn of the highest degree in your quads and glutes. Your hamstrings also get a good bit of action, but you should feel it most in the aforementioned areas. 

Barbell thrusters can improve your leg strength, which translates to everyday activities, such as getting up from a chair, walking up stairs, and stepping over a puddle. Leg strength is also important for recreational activities, such as hiking and swimming.

Core Strength

Scientists have established the fact that a strong core is essential to, well, just about everything. Having a strong core can reduce back pain (and prevent it in the first place), reduce your risk of injuries, and improve your balance. When you have a strong core, you’re more easily able to perform daily activities, such as putting away groceries, picking up your kids, and cleaning your home without risking an injury.

Upper Body Strength

In addition to strong legs and a strong core, thrusters help you develop a strong upper body. This movement recruits your shoulders, chest, triceps, biceps, and back muscles in one way or another, making thrusters a truly full-body move. 

Coordination

Ever feel like you wobble at the slightest nudge? Allow thrusters to improve your balance and coordination. This exercise requires a great deal of body awareness and timing—without those two skills, you may end up dropping the barbell, falling, or banging up your collarbones. Practicing thrusters (ideally with a light bar or a PVC pipe until you’ve got the timing down) can develop your coordination skills, which transfer to other exercises, sports, and recreational activities. 

Endurance

Thrusters are known for pumping up your heart and your muscles. This full-body strengthening movement improves your cardiovascular endurance as well as your muscular endurance, two important components of your overall fitness. 

Cardiovascular endurance refers to how long your body can perform a dynamic, rhythmic activity. In other words, it measures how well your heart and lungs can deliver blood, nutrients, and oxygen to working muscles. 

Muscular endurance, on the other hand, refers specifically to how long your muscles can sustain movement under a load. Muscular endurance is important for repetitive, laborious activities such as gardening and washing your car. 

Step-By-Step Instructions

To do thrusters, you need a barbell, plates (preferably rubber bumper plates), and barbell clips. Choose a weight with which you can perform the movement confidently for several reps. Clip the plates onto the barbell snugly to prevent them from shifting during the movement. 

Thrusters comprise two distinct parts. Follow the step-by-step instructions for each to learn how to do a thruster. 

Part One: The Front Squat

  1. Start with the barbell in the front-rack position. To get here, you’ll either need to start from a barbell rack or perform a power clean. In the front-rack position, the barbell rests on the front of your shoulders, just above your collarbone. Your elbows point forward with your triceps parallel to the ground. Keep your eyes forward and maintain a full, firm grip on the bar. 
  2. Engage your core. Take a breath and tighten your abdominal muscles, positioning your spine into a neutral position. 
  3. Perform a front squat. Hinge at your hips and bend your knees, descending until you reach the end of your body’s range of motion. Ideally, you’ll squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor (In CrossFit, your hips must be lower than your knees for a squat to be counted) but squats look different for everyone. Keep your heels pressed firmly into the ground, eyes forward, and chest upright. 
  4. Drive through your heels to stand up. Put some power behind this part of the move; you’ll need it to propel the barbell upward. Unlike in a regular front squat, during which you’d stop after extending your hips, squeeze your glutes to push your hips forward (but don’t hyperextend your spine). 

Part Two: The Barbell Press

  1. As you come out of the bottom of the squat, squeeze your glutes to create a full hip extension. Begin pressing the barbell up as you do this. Power from the hip extension should create momentum that helps send the barbell upward. 
  2. Continue pressing up until your arms fully extend above your head. Think about pressing into the barbell and activating your lats. Be careful not to over-extend your lower back—if you do this, you might need to lower the weight or practice engaging your core. 
  3. After locking out at the top, lower the barbell back to the front-rack position. Use control so you don’t bump or bruise your collarbones. 
  4. When the barbell once again touches your shoulders, you can descend into the front squat. Use the barbell as your cue: If you start to squat before the barbell touches your shoulders, you may get off-kilter and compromise your form. 

Put It All Together

Though you can break thrusters down into two separate movements, both components should combine into one smooth, unbroken motion. You shouldn’t stall, stop, or stagger in the middle of a thruster. Rather, you should move directly from the front squat into the overhead press, using power from your hips as you stand to propel the bar overhead. 

Common Mistakes

The thruster is a complex movement, so it naturally comes with several common mistakes. If you decide to try barbell thrusters, avoid these technique faults. 

Front Rack Position

The front-rack position may be the most important component of barbell thrusters. This is your starting position and your ending position, so perfecting it is essential. Many athletes, especially those with limited shoulder and wrist mobility, can’t assume the front-rack position. 

Mistakes in the front-rack include:

  • Elbows pointing down instead of forward
  • Rounded shoulders
  • Inability to fully grip the bar

Torso Falls Forward

It’s common for people to exhibit a “forward lean” at the bottom of a squat. This usually occurs when ankle, hip, or spine mobility (or all three at once) are lacking. People may also exhibit a forward lean due to weak core muscles. 

Heels Come Off Floor

Raised heels are a hallmark mistake of squats. This happens when athletes have inflexible ankles and can’t extend their knees far enough forward to support the squat position.

Spine Hyperextends

If you use a weight that’s too heavy or you have weak core muscles, you may hyperextend your back when you press the barbell overhead. This can lead to pain and injury if left uncorrected, so be sure to talk to a trainer about mitigating hyperextension.

Elbows Don’t Lock Out

At the top of the pressing portion of thrusters, your elbows should lock out. This signifies the completion of the rep. 

Squatting Too Early

When you’re doing thrusters, you have to carefully time the squat portion. Start your squat when the barbell touches your shoulders. Squatting before then can throw off your balance and compromise your form.

Modifications and Variations

You can scale and modify barbell thrusters if you can’t perform them yet. Dumbbell thrusters, front squats, and barbell presses are fantastic practice moves.

Dumbbell Thrusters

If you can’t use a barbell for any reason, you can substitute with dumbbells. Dumbbells are a great option for beginners who may not feel comfortable with a barbell yet. They’re also good for people with injuries and mobility limitations, as they’re more versatile than a barbell with plates.

Front Squats and Barbell Presses

You can use front squats and barbell presses as progressions to thrusters if you’re not ready to complete the entire movement at once. In fact, many CrossFit coaches and personal trainers would encourage this.

Practicing the movements separately can help you develop requisite strength and skill in both parts of the movement—then, when you’re ready to combine them, thrusters will be easier to perform with confidence.

Safety and Precautions

Before trying any exercise for the first time, you should consider the potential risks. Lifting weights is an inherently risky activity, and complex, technical movements like barbell thrusters increase the propensity for injury. Stay safe by considering these precautions before performing barbell thrusters.

Work With a Trainer

If you’re new to exercise, weightlifting, or CrossFit, consider working one-on-one with a trainer or CrossFit coach. A fitness professional can assess your movement quality and start you off with the right progressions so that you can one day perform thrusters with a barbell. If you can already do thrusters, a fitness pro can monitor your form and help you make adjustments that will elevate your performance. 

Practice With an Empty Barbell 

This is a good practice to follow with any barbell movement. Practicing thrusters without weight ensures you can really feel the movement and identify any mistakes in your technique.

Go Easy on the Weight

Don’t overload your barbell. Stick to weights you can confidently lift until you can consistently perform thrusters with good technique.

Wear Wrist Wraps 

Many people experience wrist discomfort when performing overhead and front-rack exercises. Compressive wrist wraps can offer extra support to alleviate pressure and prevent pain.

Don’t Drop the Bar From Overhead 

Never drop a barbell from above your head—especially if there are other people around you. At the very least, bring the barbell back to the front-rack position and drop it from there. Better yet, lower it with control all the way to the ground.

Check Your Form

You might feel silly doing this, but perform thrusters in front of a mirror or with a video camera rolling. This allows you to check and analyze your form to improve.

Try it Out 

Try this move and others like it in these fun workouts:

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Chang WD, Lin HY, Lai PT. Core strength training for patients with chronic low back pain. J Phys Ther Sci. 2015;27(3):619-22.

  2. Huxel bliven KC, Anderson BE. Core stability training for injury prevention. Sports Health. 2013;5(6):514-22.

  3. Hsu SL, Oda H, Shirahata S, Watanabe M, Sasaki M. Effects of core strength training on core stability. J Phys Ther Sci. 2018;30(8):1014-1018.

Additional Reading
  • Chang WD, Lin HY, Lai PT. Core strength training for patients with chronic low back pain. J Phys Ther Sci. 2015;27(3):619-622. doi:10.1589/jpts.27.619

  • Gentil P, Soares S, Bottaro M. Single vs. Multi-Joint Resistance Exercises: Effects on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy. Asian J Sports Med. 2015;6(2):e24057. doi:10.5812/asjsm.24057

  • Goncalves A, Gentil P, Steele J, Giessing J, Paoli A, Fisher JP. Comparison of single- and multi-joint lower body resistance training upon strength increases in recreationally active males and females: a within-participant unilateral training study. Eur J Transl Myol. 2019;29(1):8052. Published 2019 Feb 27. doi:10.4081/ejtm.2019.8052

  • Huxel Bliven KC, Anderson BE. Core stability training for injury prevention. Sports Health. 2013;5(6):514-522. doi:10.1177/1941738113481200

  • McCall P. 5 benefits of compound exercises. ACE Fitness Journal.