No Legs, No Worries- Keep Your Upper Body Strong and Quick

Jesse Irizarry


Strength and Conditioning, Strength Training


Becoming a college strength and conditioning coach isn’t easy, but it was the young guy Jesse’s dream. There wasn't time to sit and revel in my epic triumph as I had dreamed. I was thrown right into the thick of it.


On day one, I was the head strength and conditioning coach for three teams.



I had to balance that with being one of the primary strength and conditioning assistant coaches for football, which took up a hefty chunk of my time.


It’s not that I wasn’t ecstatic about it or that I didn't have any experience.


I had been interning and volunteering for years as a strength and conditioning coach, but when all of the coaches’ and athletes’ eyes shift to you and hold you responsible, you can get a little spooked.


I had more to deal with than I ever thought I would. One of my responsibilities was to work with injured football players during team weight room workouts.


As they rehabbed with athletic trainers and physical therapists, the injured players were still required to come to team workouts. It was an excellent chance to focus on movements and muscles unrelated to their injury.


We can work on drastic imbalances and weak points during this time.


Coaches wanted their players to keep the strength and explosive power they’d already built, so maintaining upper-body explosiveness was a considerable concern, especially for linemen.


Typical pressing and pulling exercises could keep general upper-body strength and even explosive potential if done smartly. However, players would still lose movement coordination from their trunks to their limbs when they had a leg or foot injury and had to stop dynamic exercises and drills that also used their lower bodies.



So I took an exercise that my boss had healthy players do in a circuit during certain times of the year and adapted it—the seated dumbbell clean and press.


Train Coordination Between the Upper and Lower Body

Unlike typical pressing exercises, the dumbbell clean and press train the coordination between the upper and lower bodies.


Hinging and extending rapidly from the hip and then immediately stabilizing the torso to stop the movement's momentum and press the weight overhead.


No, you’re not pushing through your legs and creating power this way, but the explosive hinge and the extension at the hip challenge the torso athletically in a pretty unique way.


The support you need to learn to create from your trunk is in some ways even more significant than if you did a similar movement standing.





Since working as a college coach, I’ve used the dumbbell clean and press with myself and those I’ve coached from all different backgrounds as both a way to work around injuries and as a calculated accessory exercise for upper-body circuits or conditioning sessions.


You can push heavier weights than you thought possible with any strict pressing exercise.


It will challenge and develop serious strength and stability in the trunk and the shoulders and the entire upper-back musculature because of the momentum and timing you’ll learn.


It is also one of the few upper-body-focused exercises I’ve found that’s great to include in a sequence of timed sets where you reduce weight and try to reach as many reps as you can in the given limit.


How to do the dumbell clean and press:


  • Sitting on the edge of a bench will provide enough room to touch the dumbbells to the floor in front of you.
  • Start seated upright with one dumbbell in each hand, holding it with a neutral grip (thumbs facing up), and make sure to keep your lower back from excessively arching.
  • Keep your arms relatively straight and hinge over from your hip crease with a flat back until the tops of the dumbbells touch the ground.
  • Making sure your trunk stays braced; extend hard through your hips to sit up with your torso tall again. Try to shrug your shoulders at this exact moment.
  • Use this explosive movement to whip your arms and propel the tops of the bells to your shoulders, keeping them rotating close around your elbow with the same hand position.
  • As soon as they touch your shoulders, drive them overhead, keeping the bells in line with the side of your ears.
  • Be careful not to lean too far back but instead firmly stop your momentum, keeping your torso very rigid before you press the weight overhead.
  • Return the bells to your shoulders and then take them back down to the floor as you did before.



The Focus Is on Control and Stability

Try to keep this movement fluid and continuously pausing for just a second at the top of the press to drill shoulder stability.


But stay in control and only move as aggressively as possible without losing posture as you clean the dumbbells from the ground to your shoulders.


This exercise is great to load up and build total upper-body strength or use for local muscular or total endurance.


The biggest mistake you can make is doing more weight or more reps without maintaining control and stabilization.


Most of the magic from this exercise comes from learning to quickly create force over a short distance and just as quickly halting the movement and finding the stability to deliver the force in a different direction.


Think about first moving the weight back into your body; then, you’re quickly shifting and driving it overhead, all the while keeping yourself from falling off of a bench.


When You Get Bored

I like having options to satiate my hyperactive self, but it keeps me training the same abilities.


Making this a singular movement into a snatch instead of a two-part clean and press does just that.


  • Make sure you can stabilize the clean first before trying this, but if you can, pick up some lighter dumbbells to start and turn them so that your palms face the ground.
  • Hinge over the same way but don’t worry about the bells touching the floor. Extend, shrug, and keep the bells close to your body and think about trying to throw them overhead, locking them in place with shrugged shoulders overhead.
  • Pause up there, lower the bells close to your shoulders, and keep cycling through the movement.


Don’t throw the bells and let go overhead, though. I’ll get blamed if they fall on your head, and I got enough problems already.

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