The squat thrust, or burpee, involves quickly transitioning from a deep squat, to a plank, back to a deep squat, and then up to a vertical jump. It is an effective, high-intensity body weight exercise that elevates the heart rate quickly and works almost all of the muscles simultaneously. Because it is such an integrated, whole-body exercise, there are many prerequisites that a participant must have in order to perform the movement properly. To execute a squat thrust with good form, an exerciser must have good mobility in the joints of the lower extremity, a strong and stable core to support the spine, healthy shoulders that can stabilize the upper body in the plank, and wrists that are mobile enough to withstand weight bearing in extension during the plank. It is rare to teach a group fitness class wherein all the participants have the strength, stability, and mobility to safely execute this movement. Therefore, having options for modifications when squat thrusts make an appearance in your group fitness programming is a must. The following modifications for squat thrusts are ones that I commonly use in my boot camp classes:
• For participants with wrist issues, I recommend that they place 10- or 15-lb dumbbells on the floor and put the hands on the handles of the dumbbells instead of the hands on the floor during the squat thrust. This keeps the wrist in a more neutral position and avoids weight bearing in an extension position, which can aggravate cranky wrist joints.
• For participants with cranky knees and who do not have the core and shoulder strength and stability to safely perform a squat thrust on the floor, I recommend that they put their hands on an elevated platform or on a step atop of several sets of risers so that the body position during the plank is at 45 degrees or greater from the floor. This works because the knees do not have to flex as much to lower the body to the platform (versus the floor) and the core and shoulders do not have to work as hard to stabilize as gravity is exerting less of a pull on the body in this angled position. People with wrist issues might find this appealing, too, since placing the hands on the edge of a bench or platform reduces some of the extension angle on the wrists.
• For participants who have healthy wrists, shoulders, and knees, but lack the core strength and stability, I recommend that they perform the squat thrust on the floor as directed, but avoid the “thrust” part of the movement and replace it with walking on the hands to and from the plank position (i.e., squat down, place the hands on the floor in front of the feet, walk the hands out to a plank, walk the hands back to the feet, and then stand or jump up). This modification takes the speed variable out of the movement and allows exercisers to focus on engaging the core musculature to build strength in the plank position. It also results in fewer repetitions because of the slower movement, but it allows the participants to experience a whole-body stability and strength challenge in a safer manner.