The kettlebell thruster is as close to a complete exercise as you can get. In just one movement the kettlebell thruster works the quadriceps, glutes, the muscles of the core, shoulders and triceps. In addition, this single exercise also activates and engages a whole host of other synergist muscles.
Kettlebell thrusters are the ultimate compound movement. When we take the kettlebell from the squat position up through to the overhead press, the exercise sees us transition through four joints – the knee, hip, shoulder, and elbow. By working across multiple joints, the kettlebell thruster involves a wide range of muscle groups which promotes functional physicality. A key characteristic of a compound exercises.
Compound, or multi-joint, exercises are effective whole-body strength developers that cause the ‘greatest stimulation of the muscle fibres’ and thus ‘should form the basis of strength- and mass-building programmes.’² Moreover, compound movements – which include exercises such as snatches, squats, and deadlifts (to name three) – also improve transitional strength.
Transitional strength refers to the physical ability to apply force consistently while transitioning between muscle groups. For example, transitional strength is evidenced when we power the kettlebell out of the squat position propelling it above our head in one smooth seamless movement.
Best Kettlebell: Gorilla Sports Competition Kettlebell
Product overview (click image for availability)
Single mould steel competition kettlebell
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Meets World Kettlebell Competition Standards
Uniform weight and professional finish
Gorilla Sports’ one-piece solid cast steel competition kettlebell has received over 140 5-star reviews. These bells have been designed and constructed for elite athletes and commercial gyms. Thus, as one customer put it, when you buy a Gorilla kettlebell ‘you’ll never need to buy another one’.
The cast steel competition bell features a rotating steel core which is designed to improve weight distribution. In addition, unlike most kettlebells on the market, Gorilla Sports’ are equipped with a ‘handy and non-slip handle, so that it sits securely in the hands’. Bell weights range from 8kg up to 32kg, incrementally increasing by 4kg.
Some benefits of the kettlebell thruster
If you decide to introduce this whole-body, highly functional exercise into your training diet you stand to reap many physical benefits. For example, kettlebell thrusters:
Activate multiple muscle groups including a plethora of synergists
Develop transitional strength
Improve muscle definition
Engage the heart (few resistance exercises get the heart rate up like thrusters)
Improve core strength and body control
How to do a kettlebell thruster
Stand over a kettlebell ensuring to adopt a slightly wider than normal stance – so a little over shoulder-width.
Grasp the outside of the kettlebell handle.
In one smooth movement pull the kettlebell back between your legs and swing it up level with your chest. The kettlebell should be upended so that the base is pointing upwards.
Holding the kettlebell in front of your chest squat down so that a 90ᵒ angle forms at the knee joint.
Firing evenly through both quadriceps power out of the squat.
Direct the energy generated from the squat into the overhead press. Use shoulder strength to assist and control the upward trajectory of the kettlebell.
To complete the exercise, lower the kettlebell under control. As it passes your face simultaneously sink into a squat to initiate the next rep.
And that’s it, you are now thrustering!
Another benefit of the kettlebell thruster that I forgot to mention in the opening spiel is that it is an easy exercise to master. Considering the many benefits kettlebell thrusters confer they require little technical application. The same cannot be said of barbell snatches and cleans and press or the kettlebell long cycle, each of which works the body similarly to thrusters.
However, though kettlebell thrusters are comparatively easy to perform, there are a few technical dos and don’ts that should be considered when learning this exercise for the first time.
Kettlebell thruster dos and don’ts
Do select a kettlebell weight that reflects your current level of strength. If you’re new to this exercise or to the kettlebell method, start with a weight half of what you think you could comfortably lift. For example, if you can swing a 24kg bell, select a 12 or 16kg to practice thrusters on.
Don’t dip below 90ᵒ on the squats. Deep squats (or ‘ass to grass’ squats) place excessive strain on the knees. Over time deep squatting could result in injury. Rare is it that daily life requires that we perform a deep squat. So why bother running the risk of injury just to develop strength in a redundant range of movement?
Do maintain control during each phase of this multi-faceted movement. When fatigue sets in and does surprisingly quickly when thrustering, it is easy to start dropping into the squat. This is poor form that increases injury risk in the knees. It’s for this reason why we must maintain control of the exercise with muscle contraction alone.
Don’t hyperextend at the elbow joint when executing the overhead press. It is lifting lore that you should never ‘lock out’ a weight-bearing joint – that is, when the weight is above the joint and thus ‘pushing’ down. Doing so can increase injury risk while also prematurely wearing cartilage.
Double kettlebell thruster
If you practice the thruster regularly the day’s going to come when one kettlebell is simply not heavy enough. On that day you’re going to wish you purchased a kettlebell set. Once you purchase another kettlebell (of the same weight!) you can progress on to the double kettlebell thruster.
Though the mechanics are the same in theory, double kettlebell thrusters in practice are considerably more challenging than their single bell counterparts. This increase in technical difficulty is not just a consequence of an increase in weight.
Handling two kettlebells, as opposed to one, requires greater control and technical application. It’s kind of analogous to going from performing triceps dips on a fixed bar to TRX cables or gymnast rings; to stabilise the cables takes a hell of a lot more physical strength.
However, with this increase in difficulty comes an increase in physical benefits. Double kettlebell thrusters are arguably one of the best whole-body strength developing exercises you can do. Furthermore, they engage almost every muscle in the body to execute the exercise and stabilise the kettlebells.
How to perform double kettlebell thrusters
Stand directly over two kettlebells ensuring to adopt a slightly wider than normal stance – about 1.5 shoulder-widths.
Grab kettlebell handles as you would when performing a swing.
In one smooth movement pull the kettlebells back between your legs and swing them up catching them on the outside of your arms. This bit is hard to describe but the kettlebell should be supported in the nook of the elbow resting on the bicep and forearm. Your arms should be resting on your torso. This is also the start position for the jerk.
Squat down so that a 90ᵒ angle forms at the knee joint.
Firing evenly through both quadriceps power out of the squat.
Direct the energy generated from the squat into the overhead press. Use shoulder strength to assist and control the upward trajectory of the kettlebells. Also, it is prudent to keep your eyes on the kettlebells as this helps stabilise them.
To complete the exercise, lower the kettlebells under control. As they settle back in the nook of your elbow simultaneously sink into a squat to initiate the next rep.
After you’ve put the above teachings into practice and mastered the kettlebell thruster, you’ll want to start including this complete exercise in your training sessions. Below you’ll find links to kettlebell workouts and the Hungry4Fitness 6-Week Kettlebell Programme.
These resources will provide you with opportunities to utilise your newly acquired skills while also developing kettlebell handling skills and building general strength and fitness.
(As we are very interested in user experience here at Hungry4Fitness, we would be very grateful if you could take a few seconds out of your day to leave a comment. Thanks in advance!)
Adam Priest, former Royal Marines Commando, is a personal trainer, lecturer, boxing and Thai boxing enthusiast.
¹How Skeletal Muscles Produce Movements. (2020, August 14). Retrieved July 29, 2021.
² Bean. A. (2008) Strength Training: The Complete Guide To. A&C Black. London.