Kettlebell thrusters are, basically, a combination of a kettlebell squat and a kettlebell overhead press: you use the explosive power of the concentric (standing-up) portion of the squat to gain the momentum to press the kettlebell up.
This is not a beginner-level exercise: you need to master the kettlebell clean, kettlebell front (racked) squat and kettlebell press first.
Benefits of Kettlebell Thrusters
Due to their complex nature – a squat transitioning into an overhead press – kettlebell thrusters may not be the most enjoyable exercise, at first sight. There's no point pretending otherwise: they are pretty punishing. But that's the beauty of them!
Their multifaceted nature will help you discover and develop new strength and abilities, which you might not even know you have.
They may also expose your weaknesses (lack of hip mobility, weak core, insufficient shoulder mobility, strength and stability, balance issues) and point you in the directions where you can improve.
You're gonna reap the benefits of squats and overhead presses in one movement, which will help you develop overhead stability and scapular stabilization, improve your core, shoulder and upper back strength, perfect the pattern and depth of your squat, boost your explosive power, increase hip mobility and flexibility. They will also improve your coordination and balance.
Since kettlebell thrusters require major muscle activation, they also need a lot of oxygen (and calories!) to power up those muscles, making it not just a strength but also a cardiovascular (and – that's a nice one! – calorie-burning) movement.
Muscles Worked in Kettlebell Thrusters
Kettlebell thrusters work almost every muscle in your body: from head (well, except the head) to toes. The major muscle groups engaged in this exercise include: hams, quads, glutes, lats, triceps and traps.
Kettlebell Thruster Form
Kettlebell thrusters is a complex, pretty advanced exercise, requiring multiple joint movements, which increases the risk of injury in one of those joints – if performed incorrectly with a heavy weight. Therefore, learn the movement with a lighter weight first, and only then move to a heavier increment.
You can perform single-arm, double-arm or goblet thrusters.
Here is the sequence for a single-arm kettlebell thruster.
1. Get the kettlebell into the rack position. To do that, clean it from the floor (see Kettlebell Clean).
2. In the rack position, your forearm should be tucked at your chest, at about a 45-degree angle in relation to the floor, with the bell right under your chin. The bell must stay in this position throughout the squatting part of the movement. Do not let the elbow wing out to the side.
3. From here, squat down.
4. From the bottom of the squat, explosively stand up – and use this explosive momentum to immediately press the kettlebell into the overhead position.
5. In the overhead position, brace your core and squeeze your glutes – to prevent your lower back from overarching.
7. After you have hit the desired number of reps, switch the arms.
Frequent Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
1. Winging your elbow. Once you have racked the kettlebell, you need to keep it in this – racked – position throughout the squatting part of the movement. Keep your forearm tucked at about a 45-degree angle in relation to the floor; do not lift your elbow up or flare it out to the side, because it will put unnecessary stress on your shoulder.
2. Dropping your elbow. Also, do not allow for the contrary to happen: do not let your elbow drop and your body lean forward. In the rack position, keep your chest up and your lats engaged.
3. Kettlebell in front of your head. Once you have pressed the kettlebell to the overhead position, it has to end up exactly where it sounds: over your head – not in front of it. In this position, your body should look like a straight line: your legs, hips, trunk, arm and wrists should be aligned.
4. Squatting on your toes. As you squat, do not allow the weight of the bell to drag you forward. Your heels must stay glued to the floor throughout the movement.
Kettlebell Thruster Variations
The basic difference between kettlebell thruster variations is the way you hold the kettlebell and how many kettlebells you use.
Two-arm Kettlebell Thruster
As the name suggests, you perform this movement with two kettlebells instead of one.
Not rocket science, right? Pick them up, rack them, do them.
Goblet Kettlebell Thruster
In this variation, you will not mount the kettlebell into the rack position. Instead, in the starting position, you will hold it in front of you, like for a goblet squat (see Kettlebell Goblet Squat), that is, by the horns (handle) at your chest level, bottom down.
Some kettlebell experts recommend this version for less experienced lifters because it does not require balancing the kettlebell with one hand.