Thrusters! They’re coming for you.

Thrusters have been in the Open from 2011 to 2018; every single year.  We have had two of (most likely) five workouts released so far for the Open in 2019 and haven’t seen thrusters yet.  There’s a very good chance sometime in the next three weeks they’re going to make their way onto the score card.

Thrusters seem to be a real love-hate thing in Crossfit.  Some people (mostly the sadistic ones), love them.  For a larger group of people, they aren’t such a positive feeling inspiring thing when they’re called for.  However, embracing them needs to happen and going in to them prepared and confident will go a long ways in how we perform on them.  When thrusters come up in a workout, efficiency through range of motion becomes super important if we want to maintain a good pace and be able to string together good sets. Below are four things to work on and think about while doing thrusters. 

1. Have a stable platform

Your feet are your base. They are the platform the rest of the movement drives from and that needs to be solid.  We want to have our feet in the same position we would if we were doing a front squat.  That is where we are used to moving weight through that range of motion is and that is going to be where we are strongest.  Because the weight is in front rack, we need to make sure we maintain our whole foot in contact with the ground.  Make sure the heels stay down and we are “pressing the floor down” as we drive upwards.  This recruits the hamstrings and gluteus, our strongest muscles in our body.  As we get tired, the weight in front rack will try to pull us forward. The heels down becomes even more apparent and we need to make sure our torso and chest stay “high” and upright.  

2. Proper front rack position

Finding that proper position for the barbell during the thruster can be difficult. There are two common faults with the rack.  One, the bar is places too far into the neck and is being controlled with just the finger tips.  This makes the transition to getting the bar overhead awkward and can be dangerous.  The others, is maintaining a full grip on the bar and keeping it in your hands.  Unless we are extremely mobile, this is going to lead to the weight being supported in the wrists.  That is, firstly, extremely hard on them.  It also pulls us forwards and makes it very hard to maintain an upright torso and keep the heels on the ground.  We want to try and be somewhere in the middle of those.  Think “in the first knuckle of our fingers”.  As we near the top of our squat, we want to think about accelerating the bar.  This makes the bar weightless.  When we attempt to max out our strict press, if we can clear the first 6” off our shoulders, it’s going to go up.  We are accomplishing this with momentum in the thruster. The rest is easy.  Keeping the bar in that first knuckle will us keep the weight up and on our shoulders giving our arms a brief break and will keep our chest and torso upright.  This allows us to breathe better and all in all, we have ourselves a better thruster.   

3. Bar path

The last thing, is bar path.  We all know the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  Above we talked about proper hand placement in the front rack.  This lends itself to not having to “loop the bar” around our face also.  We want the bar to rise in a straight line to overhead lockout.  Then same thing on the way back down.  We make the first few inches weightless off our shoulders with our leg drive out of the squat and then should be “expecting” the bar back in front rack position as it lowers from overhead so we are using the weight to help drive us down into our next rep.  

4. Breathing

This is probably the single biggest area where most people can improve on thrusters.  Putting everything together that I mentioned above helps us keep in good position.  That good positions lends us to a high chest and therefore we can breathe easier and more efficiently. We want to think “like a piston” on the breathing.  Inhale on the way down and exhale as we ascend.  Unless the workout is very quick (“Fran”) and we are a very high level athlete, we will benefit from letting our breathing dictate our cadence on the thruster.  While things like “pulling the bar down” from the top will benefit an elite athlete, for most of us, rushing the movement and breathing isn’t going to pay off.  When we get tired and we need to take an extra breath per rep, do so while locked out overhead.  Here our chest is opened up and lungs can fill with air.  A lot of people try to do this “resting breath” with that bar in front rack position.  Here the weight is trying to pull us forward and we need to maintain core tension to prevent that and the weight is on our chest so we can’t properly expand there either.  The overhead lockout is a far better spot.  

There it is.  A thruster may at first seem like a simple movement.  We all know that they can be totally devastating to rest of a workout.  Following those points will help set us up for success.  Keep them fluid and keep them flowing and you’ll be surprised with your ability to string them together.  Keep this in mind when they are inevitably announced for an Open event in the weeks to come!