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Behind the Champion vol 7.2: The 11 Things I Learned from Brian the Trainer

Think about what you were doing four years ago. What grade you were in, what sports you were playing, who you were hanging around. That is when the stirrings of the Champions Club began.

Now think about what you were doing four years before four years ago (which would be 8 according to Marygrove math). That is when I was introduced to CrossFit by the legendary Brian Hassler (or BTT/Brian the Trainer/brian t as he is commonly referred to).  This 260 pound powerlifting workout addict stumbled upon the original Men’s Journal article about CrossFit in November 2005 and began to follow the workouts like religion into the spring.

That would be around when I joined him in the daily torture (for a brief account the early days, check out Building a Champion pt. 1.) Understand when we first started, there was no CrossFit Games, no Rogue Fitness, and no knowledge of mobility – as Kelly Starrett’s own San Francisco CrossFit did not even exist at the time. In fact, there were only thirteen CrossFit affiliates in the world (including the most recent addition, Hyperfit/CrossFit Ann Arbor). Aside from a few videos being posted on the main site, it was all learn-on-the-fly. He did the workouts, I followed his lead, and we both became engulfed in what is now a world-wide revolution.

November 12, 2013 marked the 8 year anniversary of my first CrossFit workout, and my time in CrossFit can be evenly divided into two sections: BCC (Before Champions Club) and ACC (After Champions Club). There is no doubt that what the Champions Club is becoming is the most gratifying part of my CrossFit experience. But there is also no doubt that training with Brian the four years prior set us up for success. He didn’t necessarily preach a lot, but he didn’t have to. Like he said, “More is caught than taught.” So in honor if his Quote of the Week, I present:

Behind the Champion pt. 2: The 11 Things I learned from Brian the Trainer.

1. Compete.
Much of my trash talking can be attributed to the days of hanging with Brian. Often times before or after the workout, Brian and I would play a game called Z-Ball. Conceptualized by Brian and his fellow staff members, Z Ball was basically a concoction of tennis, baseball, Saturday Night Live, and monopoly. Tennis, in the sense of volleying back and forth and serving. Baseball, with the fielding and throwing. SNL for the trash talking. And monopoly for the assumed and blatant cheating that occurs. And when Dan Wickham was thrown into the mix, the trash talking elevated from SNL to Wedding Crashers football scene. If we were not warming up with a game of Z ball, then one-on-one was usually the next option. And while the Z ball games were always close, basketball games were not. However, that did not mean that Brian lost his competitive drive. Much of my ability to drive and finish with contact came from the days of Brian trying to keep our games close by any means – which meant hacking the shit out of me. But there was not much that could match the daily competition we would experience in the weight room. Two wins out of the three workouts would earn one of us “The [Weight] Belt” until next three-day cycle was finished.


- our results from the CrossFit benchmark workout "Elizabeth"

2. Support what you like. When Brian bought into CrossFit, he literally went all-in. He sported the old-school CrossFit t-shirts, participated in the Message Board, and was a regular contributor in the daily comments section. CrossFit was special because of the community it created. And for that community to work, people had to participate. Brian got that. Even though he was not rolling in dough, the product was worth the money he put in (and then some). It can be a new music group, your current sports team, or especially an important person who came before you. If something or someone is good and provides a positive effect on you, show your support with money, actions, and words.

3. Quality > Quantity. In the early summer of 2010, the “30 Muscle-ups for time” workout came up. With the rings hanging on the back of the bleachers, Brian successfully completed his first ever muscle-up while we were practicing before the workout. So in a sudden and uncharacteristic rush of confidence, Brian decided he was gonna do thirty more – just like the workout called for. So…I started the timer. From that point on, it took Brian exactly seven minutes and not even one successful muscle up to decide he needed to change his plans. Quality is often better than quantity. And it took many humbling experiences CrossFit offered us to learn that “as rx’d” is not set in stone.

4. Family comes first. I’m not gonna lie, Brian’s family activities made me mad. Every summer from 2006-2009, Brian would leave this teenager to fend for himself while he traveled to the west coast from mid-June to mid-July to visit his brother. Then during the Fieldhouse/new weight room era, Dani, Lalla, and Giorgio came into the mix. When family came up, his attention was no longer directed solely on training, or coaching. And now that I think about it, that’s probably exactly the way it should be. It is also part of the reason I will be taking some time off in December when my family from California is coming in.

5. Embrace Popsicle-stick humor. I have always been uncomfortable in any kind of social environment. And Brian was a grown-ass man, so you would think it would be awkward for the 16-year old Chris Sinagoga to be around him. But the exact opposite was true. He would always keep the conversation about sports, music, or CrossFit. And I really began to notice how he controlled the conversation when the Champions Club started. Instead of the off-colored jokes shared when Wickham was around, he would resort to his witty-slash-lame Popsicle stick humor. He always made sure to keep the conversation level comfortable for the audience around him. Renshaws talk should be saved for Renshaws.

6. You shouldn’t always act your age. What good does it serve to be an adult when you are surrounded by kids? If you can’t bring your maturity level down, kids won’t be able to relate to you. Would a “mature adult” be able to come up with creative ideas like the Hawaiian Workout or Z ball? Would a “mature adult” have the imagination to still incorporate play into their workout program? When youthful energy stops, creativity seems to go with it. Being a kid has nothing to do with age.

Playing with backflips - the only known footage pre-Champions Club.

7. There is good music beyond the world of hip hop. Believe it or not, my musical mind was very narrow early on. After early stints with The Beatles and Michael Jackson, my Eminem event happened and everything took a back seat to rap music. But a weird thing happened during our first summer of CrossFit. Brian, for whatever reason, didn’t like rap music. So we listened to his collection of obscure bands such as Dispatch, Flipsyde, and a Christian-rock group called Third Day (which still reminds me of the Filthy Fifty.) After a while, his music grew on me quite a bit. And what I realized is that Hip Hop gave me a solid base to understand music.  Then once I branched out to other genres, I took what I learned from them and applied it to rap. As a result, my understanding of music as a whole became much more developed.

8. Make use of the Create-a-Player option. In MLB 2004, BTT created Brian Hassler: the 180 lb switch-hitting shortstop who would lead the league in home runs, batting average, relief pitching appearances, and steroids taken. I always told him he wasn’t realistic and that his player should be a 250 pound catcher who got tired running to first base. But Brian insisted that when you are in control, you have the ability to make yourself into whoever you want.

9. The 4-plate Club. Brian never once told me to clear up the weights after I was done. I just saw him do it and naturally followed along. And I noticed that if you keep things clean and in good shape, then cleanup is easy. But if you make a mess, then you are responsible for cleaning it up. And if I ever reached the 4-plate club, someone would clean up for me.

10. Wait on your screens. When I rushed through things in basketball, the result was never good. And this was never more evident than in our pick-down Offense. Instead of waiting on the down-screen to get me open, I would get impatient and try to cut to the ball before we were ready and it threw off our team’s rhythm. But one day, Brian stayed in the gym with me for an hour after practice until I got the technique down and figured out that being patient now helped set me up for success later.

11. What you allow is what you encourage. I have never seen anyone train as hard as Brian. And considering the fact that he didn’t have a specific sport to provide extra motivation makes it that much more impressive. You would think that with only two pieces of equipment (Old Faithful and a set of rings), a lack of CrossFit knowledge, and dealing with whatever the elements outside presented, the training would be compromised. But the thought of skipping the workout never crossed his mind. Instead, it was “how can we make this work?” In the process, Brian became one of the fittest people on the CrossFit community by far. Just to give you an idea, we are talking about a guy who posted a 10 minute Helen time and a 500 pound deadlift exactly one week apart (April, 2009). And it all came down to never allowing himself to not work hard. Just work hard and people will pick up on it.

Post your thoughts and interpretation of the lessons to comments.

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Reader Comments (21)

This post was really good. I liked how Brian would even post his Popsicle stick jokes to the main site too. I wonder what the other people who posted too thought when they saw this. And Chris, how in God's name did you do a back flip

December 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJason

Great post, and love the lessons too.

December 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline

I'm wondering if Chris ever DOES act his age...
But I can relate to everything except the one about basketball screens.

Rule No. 2.
Despite the Murley family's pact against the champions club (Meghan can vouche), I am never leaving this place.

Rule No. 3
I learned this lesson when I was trying to do multiple workouts in a day and do workouts on my rest days. I injured myself to the point where I couldn't wrestle in catholic leagues my senior year. Even though I PR'd on the filthy fifty, I almost passed out and suffered from back poison for three weeks. I was told to stop but I insisted that I would figure out a way to stand up long enough to finish my wall balls and then I found the strength to finish the workout. For the most part the workouts in our gym are scaled so that doesn't happen to people. Sometimes I think we are a little too far on the safe side, but that's just my opinion.

Rule No. 4
My Champions Club family comes first (after my real family). That's why if I am at the gym and I am trying to fit a workout in, I will gladly stop and help someone or bring food or whatever. I'm here for you guys, not for myself.

Rule No. 9
I think Brian has always been a leader by action. I try to lead by example too. For example, when people complain about workouts or practices or try to cut a run short in Cross Country, I usually don't say anything to dissuade them. I just keep running.

Rule No. 11
When I am at school I wish I had the willpower to adopt this mentality of how to make the workouts work. This just reminds me of his quote, "You can either have excuses or results."

Great post!

December 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMurley Burly

Don't forget the ending Nicole, ", but you can't have both"

December 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJason

That's was a sweet backflip! And this is a great post! !

December 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErika

As much as I hate to admit it, Mr. Swanson taught me in about 15 minutes. If I remember correctly, we traded me teaching him a muscle-up for him teaching me a back tuck. I don't have the balls to try it now though. It's been a minute since I've done one. It's pretty freaky.

Cool response Murley. I'm looking forward to more interpretations!

December 1, 2013 | Registered CommenterChris Sinagoga

I miss Brian so much! He's a great role model.

December 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAly

And youre not a good role model aly

December 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermaster p

Woah there master p, I'll be back in 2 weeks so you better watch out.

December 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAly

the four plate club is so last is the five plate club now. BTW why did the fly get cut from the basketball team? he had a problem with screens!

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrian t

BTW pt 2. I vote that the next behind the champions club should be about Anita and Chris. I'd call it oil and water: 2 important components of the zone of love!

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrian t

Great post Chris those are settings to learn thanks brain

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAaron Augustyn

8. Make use of the Create a Player option
I really really liked this. At first I was like okay, cool? Like who cares is just a video game. But the last line got me!
You can be anything you want to be, no one can tell you what your suppose to look like, be like, or act like. Make your own self. Sounds cheesy but it's true.
10. Wait on your screens
This was also a good one. Not everything has to come to you right away, keep working at it. Patience is key. I've also learned that recently.

7. There is good music beyond the world of hip hop
Once again this is great. My interpretation of this one;
Don't keep a narrow mind, expand on things. Try new things, and if you don't like them the first time try it again, it might be worth it and you might learn something new!

Honestly my favorite post. Very very well written! Hopefully it got other to think too!(:

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Not sure what's more surprising: seeing that Amy actually picked up on the themes, or the fact that this post doesn't have like 30 comments.

December 2, 2013 | Registered CommenterChris Sinagoga

The fact that it doesn't have 30 comments!
I'm not that stupid!

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Love the post it has some really relateable things like the rule about family because im lucky with having some of my family at crossfit so i can be with my family and do crossfit and not everyone has that luxury but love the post

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRicky

Hello there. Shoddy internet connection lately. This is an awesome post, I'm glad you put in the time writing the editorial that B-ri deserves!

Seriously though, Brian Hassler is the I use his "What you allow is what you encourage" quote all the time actually. In my personal opinion, Mr. the trainer is one of the hidden treasures of Bish Fo. He knows a crap ton about everything and is always willing to share. I wish you new kids had the privilege of learning from Good Cop (can you guess who Bad Cop was?).

I'm assuming the "hidden theme" from this post was be yoself cause nobody else can do it better haha. At least that's what I got. But this is because I copied off of Amy...what has the world come to

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

Favorite post by far!!!! Miss ya brian!!!

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbubs

Guys this isn't an obituary!!! I'm still alive. Actually the Amy comment reminded me of a guest post idea entitled, "NO is just ON turned upside down".

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrian t.

"People rarely get their flowers while they still smell them." - Kanye West

December 2, 2013 | Registered CommenterChris Sinagoga

Probably one of your best posts because not only does it incorporate lessons to live by in crossfit, but it also applies them to real life. Nice job Chris.

December 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEP

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