Someone once asked me this for real. It was a random fitness interview one of the years I was blessed enough to be going to the CrossFit Games. The question was, “If you could only do 1 exercise for the rest of your life to stay in top shape, what would you choose?”. It actually didn’t take me much time to answer this question. Immediately my mind went to the checklist I think about when selecting exercises in general. What can I do with weight? What movement makes a large load travel a long distance and quickly? And what also can create some cardiovascular gains if I did it in high volume and not just for maximal loading? The answer I came to was the Thruster. I know, awful.
The thruster is a movement that can be done with Dumbbells, kettlebells, a barbell and even other odd objects. By definition you would take the load from the ground or a rack, stand tall with it, squat all the way down (hip crease below the top of the knee), then extend your legs to stand and as you reach the top of your standing position you press the load overhead. That is 1 rep. It’s a squat and a press blended together smoothly. If you have never done one of these in training, they are awful and in fact it’s one of my top 2 movements I do not enjoy. So why pick it? Well because the results are still amazing even though I don’t enjoy it, and I like hard things.
The thruster is versatile. It can be responsible for tremendous gains in power or stamina and it all depends on how you choose to use it. The reason I selected it specifically is because of the great lower and upper body strength and conditioning ability. You can use the thruster to build strength and keep it heavy for sets of 5 or below. You can also use the thruster for conditioning and do sets with light weight to failure, or pick a specific weight like 95lb. For men and 65lb. For women and get to a specific number like 100 for time. Each and every option, when attacked with the appropriate focus and intensity, can be devastating emotionally yet amazing for your fitness. Sound scary? Well it does to me! But that isn’t even the end of the benefits of the thruster.
Functional movements in general where we are responsible for making large loads travel long distances quickly help develop other excellent qualities. When done correctly we are training core to extremity speed and coordination. This means that we are using larger slower muscles to first stabilize then move, and then finally smaller faster muscles to finish each movement. The trunks responsibility to stabilize the spine is tested tremendously when going light or heavy for thrusters. The abs, erectors, obliques and hip flexors are getting their share of work even though we may not consciously think about it. As we move through single reps or high volume reps we must remain rigid in those muscles and yet find room to breathe deeper through our belly as we expand and contract our diaphragm. Yeah, it’s a lot. And the more fatigue and stress you are under the harder it gets!
As you can tell, my pick wasn’t the bench press or something fun. It’s not because I don’t like “fun”, I like fun, but I love good results even better. So the thruster was my pick, what would yours be? And when considering the demands of the body with the one movement you’d pick, why? Now go do some thrusters while you think about it!