Master the Dumbbell Thruster for Full Body Power

The dumbbell thruster is a core training staple that helps you to master other multi-joint movements—but are you sure you’re even doing the exercise correctly?

For this basic gym necessity, you shouldn’t settle for anything other than perfect form—especially because it’s such a simple, essential movement that can help you progress to other exercises when done properly. Let Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. and associate fitness editor Brett Williams guide you through the move’s subtleties, saving you from the bad habits that are keeping you from unlocking your fitness potential.

Before you grab your dumbbells and get thrusting, take note that it’s extremely important to pay attention to the subtleties of the movement here. You’re not just jumping up and down and raising the weights overhead.

Elbows Up

Eb says: Throughout every phase of the dumbbell thruster, you want to fight to keep your elbows high. They should be parallel with the ground or (even better) slightly higher than that. This position actually takes stress off the shoulders and places it on your core, centralizing the weight and making this a more natural squat.

Maintaining this position will help take strain off your shoulders and place it more on your torso musculature, making this more like a squat in terms of muscle recruitment. That’ll save your shoulders so they can execute the push press portion of the lift—and keep them healthy in the long term.

Never Tip Forward

Eb says: The great challenge of the front squat is not letting your torso tip forward, and that’s the challenge of the thruster as well (partly because this is a valuable training tool for the front squat). Thinking elbows up will help you maintain proper body angle, and you should also think chest up. Fight for those two positions throughout the life of each set, never rounding your back.

Get to Parallel

Eb says: Common thruster mistake: Not taking the move to proper depth. It’s easy to skip getting your thighs to parallel on this move, especially if you think ahead to the press that comes up next. But it’s also critical to get your thighs parallel with the ground as you lower to get full benefit from the thruster. If you’re not getting your thighs to parallel, you’re essentially doing an extra-deep push press, and training only hip explosion, when you should also be improving your squat. So push your thighs slightly deeper than parallel on every rep; it’ll make the move harder but more beneficial.

Take It Slow

Eb says: The other common thruster mistake: Rushing through reps so that your form breaks down. This happens often when the move is on a timer, or when you have to do 10 to 15 consecutive reps. And this is when you’ll see a lot of back rounding or thrusters that don’t dive below parallel.

The counter to that is simple: Approach each rep as its own entity. Lower into the squat, then power up and push the dumbbells overhead. Instead of going right into another rep though, let the dumbbells settle on your shoulders for a second, gather yourself, then do the next rep. This is a great way to learn the thruster, and it’s a great way to check yourself to get more training effect out of the move and prevent sloppiness.

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