How to do a squat thrust + 5 variations

What makes the squat thrust so effective? Using only your body weight, it repeatedly hits many major muscle groups in both your upper and lower body, creating a huge oxygen demand and a significant cardiovascular challenge when performed at a high intensity. And it requires only six feet by three feet of floor space.

Along with its more devilish cousin—the burpee—the squat thrust is a classically challenging movement, so fiendishly difficult that drill sergeants, trainers, and exercise instructors often dole out reps as punishment. Arrive five minutes late to your fitness class? That’s 10 reps. Missed an obstacle in a mud run? Thirty representatives. Do you drag your heels through a basic training run? Fifty delegates.

So you better learn how to do it right.

Squat Thrust: Step-by-Step Instructions

At first glance, the squat thrust looks simple: From a standing position, you squat down, place your hands on the ground, return to a push-up position, and then reverse the move. But the movement’s benefits — and its potential dangers — are in the details

Squat thrust exercise women

  • Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms by your sides.
  • Bend your knees, squat and place your hands on the floor in front of you, shoulder-width apart.
  • Keeping your hands in place, engaging the back plane and core, return your legs to a push-up position: arms and body straight, hands in line with your shoulders and slightly wider.
  • Reverse the sequence to return to the starting position.

When you return to the push-up position, don’t let your hips hang below the level of your shoulders and heels. This can cause sudden, forced extension of the lower back—a recipe for back pain.

As with any exercise, if you get too tired to move with proper form, stop and rest. Just because barbells or dumbbells aren’t involved doesn’t mean it can’t hurt you if you make a mistake.

Working out with a trainer who insists you do squat thrusts until you’re begging for mercy? Unless that instructor is named Gunnery Sergeant Patton And You’re three hours from the end of Hell Week in SEAL training, find another instructor.

Squat Thrust vs. Burpees

Squat thrust vs burpee exercise

Even if you’ve never heard of the squat thrust, you’ve probably heard of the burpee — exercise physiologist Royal H. A move named after the burpee, who invented the movement as a quick way to assess fitness. “A burpee follows the same basic movement sequence, but also includes a push-up and a jump,” says Beachbody Senior Director of Fitness and Nutrition Content Trevor Thiem, CSCS.

Breaking it down a bit: The first few steps of the burpee are the same as the squat thrust — bend over and kick your legs out in a push-up position. Once there, though, you’ll do a full push-up — chest within a few inches of the floor, and then back up again, keeping your body rigid — before you step your legs forward. Then, from a crouched position, explode upward by jumping as high as you can while reaching your arms toward the sky.

If you want to squat thrust harder than ever, in other words, make it a burpee.

Squat thrust variation

Still not satisfied? If you’re a glutton for exercise punishment, you might get better with these options.

Squat thrust jack

Once in the push-up position, jump with your feet wide, then step back — as if performing a horizontal jumping jack with your legs before standing.

Squat thrust mountain climber

Once in the push-up position, lift your right leg off the floor and draw your knee toward your chest. Reverse the step and then repeat with your left leg. Return to the push-up position, step your feet forward and stand.

Squat Thrust Tuck Jump

Instead of standing up to finish the movement, jump as high as possible, drawing the knees toward your chest before landing softly and immediately begin your next rep.

Weighted Squat Thrust

Perform the squat thrust holding two dumbbells throughout the movement. Keep the weight light so you can perform each rep explosively.

Finally, there are clap-push-up squat thrusts, gator push-up squat thrusts, side-shuffle squat thrusts, and dozens of other variations — all worth exploring after you’ve nailed the basic version.

What muscles does the squat thrust work?

High plank women's living room  Squat thrust exercise

One of the advantages of squat thrusts is that they work different muscle groups. Some of the biggest contributors:

The lower part of Sharil

Squatting and standing work your glutes, quadriceps and hamstrings. If you do a vertical jump at the end of the movement, you will also hit your calf muscles.

upper body

When you assume a push-up position, your chest, shoulders, and triceps are engaged to keep you in proper alignment. If you perform a burpee, they work harder.


Almost every muscle between your legs and shoulders — including your glutes, abdominals, obliques, and spinal erectors — is engaged in keeping your body stable, supporting your spine, and transferring energy efficiently between your limbs.

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