The Kettlebell Thruster: A Step-by-Step Guide

By Matt Walter
Published on:
Learn how to correctly perform the kettlebell thruster

Kettlebells are incredible tools for getting you strong and fit. And the kettlebell thruster is right at the top of full-body movements that will improve your strength and power, as well as increase your cardiovascular endurance. In this article, I will describe the kettlebell thruster, how to perform it safely and effectively, as well as some tips for adding this movement to your workouts.

Love it or hate it, CrossFit’s been around for 20 years and has brought us a host of movements that weren’t widely used before. The thruster is one of those exercises.

Today, CrossFit’s daily WOD is likely to prescribe some form of a thruster, because the movement is that good. Even if you don’t like CrossFit, give a thruster a shot. Few exercises will work your entire body like a thruster, and the kettlebell version is an absolute must for any fitness goal!

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Table of Contents

Kettlebell Thruster Fact Sheet

Exercise: kettlebell thruster, dual kettlebell thruster, kb thruster
Joint Action: The thruster is a compound exercise that uses more than one joint and combines the front squat and overhead press.
Muscles Trained: glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, core muscles, back muscles, triceps, biceps, deltoids (shoulders)

Video: Kettlebell Thruster Demonstration

How to Perform the Kettlebell Thruster: Step-by-Step Instructions

In order to perform the kettlebell thruster, you first have to get the kettlebells safely onto your shoulders, in a position that allows you to both front squat and overhead press.

We’ll begin with getting the kettlebells into the starting position, and then how to perform the thruster movement.

The Kettlebell Thruster Starting Position

Kettlebell thruster Setup

Step 1: Place two equal weight kettlebells (KBs) on the ground next to each other, with the inside of each handle pointed slightly toward you.

Approach the KBs and stand with your feet slightly wider than the KBs, and with the KBs one to two feet in front of you.

Step 2: Hinge at the waist and grab the KBs by the horns. Keep your back flat, spine neutral, and your arms extended holding the kettlebells. This is the starting position for the double kettlebell thruster.

Coach’s Tip: The best way to think about this position is to envision a center in football (the guy that hikes the ball to the quarterback).

Step 3: Initiate the lifting portion of the movement the same way that you would a kettlebell swing. “Swing” the kettlebells forward by extending the hips and pulling the KBs up toward your shoulders and back toward your hips.

Coach’s Tip: To initiate the movement, think about hiking the football. “Hike” the kettlebells up and between your legs.

Step 4: As the KBs raise, rotate your arms and hands so that they come underneath the KBs, with the KBs resting on the outside of your forearms.

You should now have both kettlebells up on your shoulders.

Kettlebell thruster Bottom Position

Performing the Thruster

Step 5: You are now in the starting position for the thruster. We call this your rack position Drop into a squat with the KBs resting on your shoulders. Keep your back straight and simply squat comfortably, under control, as low as you can.

Step 6: When you have reached your lowest depth, stand up explosively to return to a fully standing position. But don’t stop! Keep your momentum going!

When you have reached a fully standing position, drive the kettlebells up and overhead, ending the lifting (concentric) portion of the lift by standing straight with both KBs overhead, arms fully straightened. You have now completed one full thruster.

Step 7: Return the KBs back to your shoulders. Repeat.

Kettlebell Thruster Tips

Kettlebell Thruster Tips

If this is a new movement for you, begin with lightweight kettlebells. Just getting kettlebells from the ground up to your shoulders (this is a kettlebell power clean) takes practice and patience to learn to perform correctly and safely.

Perform your reps slowly and under control. The concentric portion of the movement (standing up from the bottom of your squat and pushing the weights up overhead) should be more explosive than the eccentric portion (dropping into a full squat). The eccentric portion should be slow and controlled.

Always stop performing the exercise if you find yourself unable to do your reps with good form, and do not take this movement to failure! Trust me, you don’t want a kettlebell to fall on your head. That doesn’t feel good!

Programming the Kettlebell Thruster

If this movement is new, perform sets of at least 8 reps. While this is a great movement for strength, you will get more out of it with higher reps. Build strength in the movement workout by workout, and gain confidence before using weights that will force you to do less than 8 reps.

Add this movement to your leg or shoulder days, and watch those muscles grow!

Kettlebell Thruster Variations

The kettlebell thruster has several variations, including the dumbbell thruster, barbell thruster, and wallball shots.

But if you really want to make this exercise even more challenging, try doing this with one arm. While two kettlebells weigh more than one, the single kettlebell thruster will force your core muscles to work harder. Complete 6-8 reps with one arm, return the kettlebell to the starting position on the ground, and complete another 6-8 repetitions on the other side.

Or try this kettlebell complex (with 1 or 2 kettlebells):

1 Kettlebell clean + 1 kettlebell thruster + 1 overhead squat

Clean one or two kettlebells from the ground or the hang position to the front rack position, then perform one thruster, then perform one overhead squat before returning the kettlebells back to your shoulders and then to the ground or the hang. That is one repetition.

Get Your Own Kettlebells

Kettlebells are a versatile piece of equipment that will help you gain muscle, strength, power, mobility, or just help you be a more fit individual. If you are looking to start your own home gym, kettlebells are a great place to start. I have all of the following brands of kettlebells. They are all very high quality. If you are looking, start here.

Titan Fitness Cast Iron Kettlebells – These are my favorite style of kettlebells. If you are just getting into kettlebells, start with a 16 kg (35 lb) or 24 kg (53 lb) bell. I bought my 35 kg (72 lb) kettlebell from Titan Fitness and I love it.

Rogue Fitness Iron Kettlebells – These are great, high-quality kettlebells. I have two 16-kg and one 24-kg from Rogue.

Rogue Fitness E-Coat Kettlebells – These are slightly cheaper than the cast iron kettlebells but are of the same quality and are shaped from the same mold as the cast iron. I have one of these and I use it often with my cast iron version. They are the same height, weight, and feel, which is important if you are doing dual kettlebell work.

Conclusion: The Kettlebell Thruster

Kettlebells are a great tool for adding strength and muscle to your workouts. The kettlebell thruster is an explosive movement that will build power, core stability, and total body conditioning. You can use kettlebells in place of dumbells or barbells to get the same results you would with those exercises while also strengthening your grip, forearm muscles, and developing unilateral coordination and power.

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Matt has been a Certified Personal Trainer for more than 18 years. He is also a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, has a master's degree in teaching, and is a former competitive powerlifter and CrossFit athlete. His passion is helping others get in shape from mid-life and beyond.