Grips and Hips Interview with Mike Saffaie

[This excerpt was taken from Issue 52]

Grips and hips may sound catchy, but it is the methodology and approach of strength and conditioning for coach Mike Saffaie who happens to work with some of the top athletes in combat sports. A brown belt himself under Rener and Ryron Gracie, Mike incorporates this “grips and hips” philosophy to his own workout program as well.

Mike says that the importance of grips and hips in jiu-jitsu comes from the basic element of our art, which is to grab and control our opponent to manipulate their weight and position. One way to maximize this ability is to condition the prime muscle groups most important in accomplishing this feat.

In this article, Mike infuses some of the actual grips that you would use in a grappling match and that you wouldn’t find in your traditional workout program. By incorporating balance exercises, bodyweight movements, and bands, Mike is able to focus on the core essentials that increase performance in jiu-jitsu along with everyday function.

Static vs Explosive

According to Mike, a common error in people’s approach towards training is that there’s an imbalance towards explosive workouts in the athletic community without recognizing the importance of the “time under tension” concept. Time under tension is the idea of holding weight for certain amounts of time to assist in the development of muscle endurance. Whether it be static positions for a specified amount of time, or carrying additional weight to and from identified locations, time under tension exercises are vital to an athlete’s gains in strength.

The Workout

The following exercises can be done as individual sets (Indicated in each description) or as a combined circuit. You can also incorporate any of them into your own routine. 

Hex-Bar Balance Beam Farmer-Walk

This exercise uses a hex-bar with “Fat Gripz” attachments. A hex-bar help keep the body mechanically aligned with the weight throughout the entire movement. The “Fat Gripz” create added challenge and places an emphasis on grip development. This exercise helps improve muscle development and athletic performance by incorporating the challenge of balancing weight and combining whole body movement in moving the weight. Doing this activates use of the core due to the constant adjustment of weight distribution in the act of balancing.  Also, covering distance while balancing in a restricted area tends to slow movement, aiding in the “time under tension” concept. For this demonstration, we used a 2”x4”x10’ for our balance beam.

Step 1

Starting with feet shoulder width apart, squat down to pick up the hex-bar using either a “monkey grip” or standard grip (using the thumb), slightly roll shoulders back, head up (like you’re defending a guillotine grip), lift.

Step 2

Keeping your balance, step on the beam and walk to the end. Step off of the beam.

Step 3

While still holding the weight, perform 5 squats, paying attention to form and keeping the head up.

Step 4

Rotate 180 clockwise and repeat.

Perform this exercise for 4-5 sets of 5 repetitions, never letting go of the hex-bar throughout the exercise.

Note: Each time you rotate at the end of your walk, alternate between a clockwise and counterclockwise direction for your rotation.

Additional Notes:  Mike like to use a Hex-Bar because of the anatomically correct position it puts the weights being lifted in relation to the posture of the person lifting, which decreases the risk of injury.

For more exercises and tips from Mike Saffaie, be sure to grab issue 52.



Jim Lawson is a US Marine Corps veteran, jiu-jitsu black belt under Rodrigo Teixeira, who loves to travel and teach jiu-jitsu to anyone who will listen. He has a lot of other experiences and credentials but who really cares about all that. He’d love to keep in touch with you. You can stay in touch with him either through email or on his social media (where his numbers could really use a boost).

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