Level Up for The CrossFit Open: Optimise your THRUSTERS

Friday, January 6, 2017 - 10:41
In Part 2 of this CrossFit Open series I offer my 5 tips on how you can make the Thruster more efficient. It’s no surprise each year when we see this movement appear the Open. The thruster is seen as one of the “staple” movements within CrossFit. Being able to excel in CrossFit requires proficiency in movements so that one can maximise their power output in fast paced, uncomfortable tests of capacity. Therefore efficiency is key!


The Benefits

First, due to the uncomfortable demands of any CrossFit met-con, the benefits of training the Thruster can often be forgotten. We get distracted by the pain of doing workouts like Fran or 15.5 and forget the beauty of the training effect. The Thruster is a compound movement (multi-joint) combining the Front Squat and Press. Each set also must begin with a Clean or Power Clean. This means we are using the whole body to move a load (i.e. the barbell) a long distance. That output creates a large metabolic demand. Put simply, your body needs to recruit a lot of muscles and oxygen to get the work done. Your lungs, heart and muscles are getting worked.

The Thruster is also very versatile. Not only is it a great tool for higher repetition work as described above, we can add weight and use it to develop strength & power. We can also constantly vary the implement. Although usually performed with a barbell, the thruster can be completed using a variety of different equipment such as dumbbells, kettlebells, deadballs, sandbags and more!


The Breakdown & 5 Tips To Improve Efficiency

I have found the following 5 tips the most beneficial when it comes to improving your efficiency and overall performance. But first, let’s break down exactly how to do a thruster.

  • Stance: your feet should be shoulder-width apart in the position you would normally stand for an air squat, with the barbell front racked on your shoulders. Placement of your hands should be no wider than the outsides of your shoulders, with your elbows up in the front rack position.

  • Core to extremity: Keeping midline stable and posture neutral, pull your hips down and descend into a below-parallel squat.

  • Apply force: From the bottom position, explode through the heels to drive you and the bar beyond the start position , using the momentum to simultaneously gain a “thrusting” sensation which propels the bar off the shoulder into the Press.

  • Finish: in a standing position with the barbell fully extended overhead. The bar should be over the centre of the body; ie inline with ears, hips and middle foot.

  1. Improve your Front Squat position

Remember, the first aspect of the Thruster is either going to be a Clean or a Power Clean into a Front Squat. If you have mobility restrictions that do not allow you to move smoothly through the squat to below parallel, then this is the first thing that needs addressing. Improve your position by releasing your hips, upper back and ankles to provide yourself with a comfortable squat stance. The better your movement quality the less energy it will take to execute the movements.

  2. Midline Stability: elbows up, eyes straight ahead and spine neutral

As with every movement in the gym, you need to learn brace your core first. This is the key to locking in your posture. Once your posture falls apart so too will your performance. The common coaching queue of “elbows up” is aimed to help athlete’s keep their neutral spine. By keeping your elbows high it creates a solid rack position for the bar to rest on your shoulders. Continuing to lift the elbows during the squat will help you from dropping your chest. Typically your eyes will follow the line of your elbows, so keep them up too.

  3. Drive through your heels

As soon as you come too far onto your toes, you are generating forward momentum and instantly lose power due to the instability. During the Thruster the barbell should be moving up and down in a straight path in the vertical plane. If the majority of your balance is not in your heels, you will rock forwards and backwards and the barbell will move outside of that ideal pathway. This then requires extra work. We don’t want to do more than we have to!

  4. Breathe

In most workouts, the inclusion of Thrusters means that the WOD is designed to gas you out. A lot of people forget to breathe when performing the thruster, as they are so intimidated by the movement. Instead, utilise your breathing to keep a steady rhythm. Try one breath per Thruster; inhale on the way down, and exhale at the top of the Press. Steady breathing is one of the most important factors when it comes to cycling Thrusters within a workout. Having improved control over your breathe will allow you stay composed even in the toughest workouts.

   5. Don’t grip too tight!

A tight grip can quickly fatigue your forearms during thrusters, so loosen your grip when you can. You should feel the weight on your body, resting the barbell in a comfortable position across the shoulders, allowing the legs to control the power within the movement. When the bar is overhead, tighten your grip slightly to prevent the bar from wobbling or dropping unexpectedly.

Put these lessons into action and practice!

  • Practice small range (sub-maximal) sets with a light and manageable weight. The goal is skill adaptation, NOT to build strength

  • Progressively increase the rep range rather than increasing the weight. Once you’re efficiently able to cycle 12 to 15 reps of a barbell movement you can then return to small ranges with a heavier weight.

  • Practice small sets within a workout at intensity. Over time you will grow in confidence and ability. Then, when the time is right, you can unleash your new skill during the Open!

  • Improve your mobility. Better mobility provides a better position, better position allows greater efficiency!

  • There is so many great videos on technique for not only the thruster but all barbell movements. Including this one by Jason Khalipa http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=sWdo3dxgROI

  • Ask your coach. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance or feedback from the person who sees you every day! We are here to help!


Look out for my next part of the series where we will step away from the barbell and focus more towards some gymnastics skill, starting with the pull up!