There are many potential benefits to doing thrusters but they may not be for you. Discover some alternatives that offer similar results.
Thrusters work a variety of muscles including the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves, deltoids, triceps, trapezius, core, and erector spinae.
On top of helping you build muscle, thrusters can help you improve balance, improve coordination, burn calories, and offer other typical exercise benefits.
Whether you don’t enjoy thrusters, you want more beginner-friendly options, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these thruster exercise substitutes can offer you some or all of the same benefits.
1. Wall ball toss exercise
As the name implies, for the first exercise you will need a good wall ball or medicine ball. Once you have this, take the following steps to do a wall ball toss:
- Stand at about an arm’s distance or slightly more away from a sturdy wall with your face towards that wall. Hold a wall ball right in front of your chest with your hands on the sides of the ball. Put your feet about shoulder-width apart.
- Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you ideally want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height.
- Push yourself up with your legs in an explosive way. At the same time push the wall ball upward and slightly forward away from your body.
- Let go of the wall ball at the top of the movement so that it flies in the air against the wall.
- Catch the ball with slightly less than stretched arms.
You can basically describe the wall ball toss exercise as thrusters done more explosively with different fitness equipment. This makes it so wall ball tosses work the same muscles but focus more on training muscle power.
The different equipment requirements of this alternative can be both an upside or downside depending on the gear (and walls) you have available at home or in the gym.
2. Shoulder presses
For the next thruster exercise alternative, you likely need some form of shoulder workout equipment like kettlebells, a cable machine, a barbell, a smith machine, resistance bands, etc.
Take the following steps to do a shoulder press with dumbbells:
- Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand at about shoulder height with your hand palms facing forward. Your elbows can point slightly more forward than just a horizontal line with your shoulders.
- Slowly move the dumbbells up until your arms are slightly less than stretched.
- Lower the dumbbells back into starting position in a controlled motion.
Shoulder presses are basically the arm movement of the second part of thrusters but you do the motion in a more controlled way. This has a few potential benefits.
First of all, by doing the movement slower, it becomes easier to do shoulder presses with the right technique. This can help you avoid injuries.
Secondly, by only generating movement from your shoulders and triceps you are certain these muscles are doing the lifting and not your legs. This makes it easier to gradually build up your strength in a precise way.
3. Front squats
For the next exercise, you need a barbell with plates and a squat rack. Once you have these, take the following steps to do a front squat:
- Find a squat rack and place the barbell at about chest height. Add the desired number of weight plates. If there are any safety bars adjust them to the right height.
- Stand in front of the barbell, put the barbell on the front of your shoulders, and hold it there with your hands. Hold the barbell in position by letting it rest on the inside of your fingers. For this, you have to point your elbows forward and hand palms upward.
- Unrack the barbell and take a few steps back so that you have room to squat. Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
- Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height. You will likely have to bend forward for balance but keep your back in a straight line throughout the movement.
- Push yourself up again into starting position by stretching your legs.
- Rerack the barbell after your desired number of repetitions.
Even if you do thrusters with other equipment options like dumbbells or kettlebells, the initial part of the exercise will basically be a front squat in terms of muscle engagement and balance.
A benefit of leaving out the shoulder press part is that you can load the barbell heavier. This could be necessary to see significant muscle growth and strength progress in your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
Additionally, front squats can help you get used to the weight distribution of thrusters without adding the extra challenge of the shoulder press.
If you like front squats as a thruster alternative you may also like landmine squats. This is a similar exercise but you hold one end of a barbell in front of your chest while the other end is anchored to the ground.
4. Pike pushups
A challenge some people have is that they don’t have the ideal equipment to do thrusters at home. If that is the case, you can also choose pike pushups to simulate the second part of the exercise without equipment.
Take the following steps to do a pike pushup:
- Sit on your hands and knees on the ground with your hands at about shoulder width.
- Move your hips in the air so that your body makes a triangle together with the ground. You likely have to lift up your heels in the air and lean on the front of your feet.
- Slowly fold your arms at your elbows until your face is close to the ground. Your upper arms should be at an angle of about 45 degrees or less to your sides. Another way to put it is if someone is looking down at your upper body from above your arms should make an arrow, not a T.
- Stretch your arms again until you are back in the pike position of step 2.
Similar to thrusters, pike pushups allow you to train your shoulders, triceps, core, balance, and coordination.
At the same time, pike pushups are clearly not the perfect substitute. You don’t get the same leg workout and due to the position of your head in relation to the ground, you don’t want to do the exercise too fast.
To make pike pushups more challenging you can put your feet on a sturdy elevated surface and/or wear a weighted vest.
5. Clean and presses
Thrusters can already be a challenging full-body exercise but you may want to take it one step further. In that case, power cleans can be the right alternative for you.
Take the following steps to do a clean and press with a barbell:
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width in front of a weighted barbell.
- Slightly fold your legs at the knees and tilt your upper body forward to grab the barbell on the ground with your hand palms facing backward.
- Tilt back your upper body and stretch your legs in one continuous motion in an explosive way so you can raise the barbell enough for the following steps. It is very important to keep your back in a straight line during this step.
- Most of the upward force of the barbell will come from your legs but you can pull it upward slightly higher.
- Move under the barbell to a position where you can do the next step. You will have to change the angle of your wrists in relation to the barbell.
- Catch the barbell on the front part of your shoulders with your hands still holding the barbell to control it. Your hand palms will point upward and your legs should be slightly bent.
- Lower your hips a small amount after a few seconds of rest.
- Push your hips up explosively and press the barbell up in one continuous movement until your arms are slightly less than stretched. Make sure your elbows are close enough to the center to avoid shoulder injuries.
As you can likely tell, clean and presses are both more technically challenging and engage more muscles.
Besides the typical thrust muscles, you also work your lower back, erector spinae, trapezius, grip, and biceps. Additionally, clean and presses work your quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings more explosively.
6. Overhead lunges
Take the following steps to do walking overhead lunges with dumbbells:
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width. Hold two dumbbells in your hands with your arms slightly less than stretched above your head and keep them there throughout the exercise.
- Take a big step forward so that you get into a position where both of your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Your front foot should be flat on the ground and your back foot should only touch the ground with the ball (front part) of the foot.
- Move your back foot and leg forward and get into the previous position. Make sure you use your front leg muscles to move upward and not the momentum of your back foot.
- Repeat the same movement with your other leg forward.
In overhead lunges, you mainly focus on your quadricep, glute, hamstring, and calf muscles. You get some isometric (static) shoulder engagement but this is definitely not a workout to the extent of thrusters.
One upside or downside depending on your training goals is that overhead lunges are more challenging than thrusters when it comes to balance and coordination.
This can help you train these fitness components but also distract you from training your muscles as much as possible at home or in the gym.