It had to happen sooner or later and today my short run of great workouts and PRs came to an end. Regular followers of my story know how important the Overhead Squat is to me. The amount of balance and coordination required serve as a great situational report on my battle with Parkinson’s. Basically, if I have the capacity to hold a weight overhead and squat to full depth and recover with any degree of virtuosity I am holding my ground and maintaining my ability to move well. Until recently even the warm-up that I do with the empty barbell was very challenging and often just impossible, but the last few sessions have seen huge gains in that movement, bringing me within sight of my lifetime best of 185lbs.

ilya-ilyin-189kg-snatch

I woke up this morning like a kid on Christmas thinking that today was the day that Flight had me testing my one-rep max in the OHS so I felt gut-punched when I read that today we push for a 1RM…in the Drop Snatch. At first glance these movements look identical and their top and bottom positions really are. It is the execution of the Drop Snatch that makes it more difficult than the OHS by an order of magnitude. In the OHS you start by locking the weight out overhead and then squatting down as deep as you can while maintaining a neutral spine. This gives you time to organize your core, fine-tune your shoulder and elbow extension and descend slowly if necessary to maintain stability. In the DS you drop. Suddenly and without even a dip and drive of the knees to get the weight going. With the bar on your back you simply unhinge your knees and hips, drop into the most challenging of weightlifting positions, and catch the bar overhead with arms already locked out. You don’t even move the weight up, you instead push yourself down. This teaches you to receive the weight in this position dynamically and with speed and it is an absolutely necessary skill if you want to be able to Snatch any weight. It is not a skill that I possess…yet.

So while I entered my oasis of chalk and iron riding high on recent victories and daring to hope for the glory of a lifetime PR, I left dejected and hurt, burdened by the familiar weight of my reality. Oh that’s right! I’m 41. My body is broken after a decade of working two brutal jobs and is grabbing every opportunity to betray me. I have Parkinson’s Disease. Needless to say today I failed. Despite my best efforts, I could not force my body to just drop and have faith in my ability to catch even 95lbs.

There’s a very good reason for this. My right arm doesn’t always follow commands thanks to my disease and after having it’s bicep surgically repaired last year, it doesn’t seem to be very much in favor of fully extending itself. The left elbow often feels like it has a hot match stuck in it where there is actually a visible divot in the fascia. With my skull and my neck being the imminent victims of a lockout failure, I just could not override my brains commands for self-preservation.

I failed. Many of you are mentally yelling at me right now because the term “failure” carries such a negative connotation, and rest assured, initially my attitude in the face of this failure was terrible. I slammed the bar. I even let myself cheat with a little dip and drive to get the weight started. While that did give me some successful lifts, they were effectively Snatch Balances, not Drop Snatches. I toyed with the idea of just going with my recent successes and just doing my Overhead Squat. In the end, I stubbornly continued to attempt the Drop Snatch, never solidly landing one or even forcing myself into a deep receiving position. Since the goal of today’s training wasn’t reached, I call that failure.

I do get over emotional in the heat of the moment when I fail, but looking back on it now hours later, I think I’ve managed to extract the value from today’s “failed” training session. Shifting my perspective instead of focusing on the fact that I can’t do something, I can see the lessons easily. First, this is going to be hard. I’m trying to take an old, damaged body with a movement disorder and teach it the most challenging discipline in athletics. If I’m not failing occasionally I’m not trying hard enough. Second, it has really exposed my biggest weakness when it comes to the Snatch and why I can’t do it well. This gives me a direction for my training. So going forward, I will follow my empty bar warm-ups with a few minutes of work on those Drop Snatches. The stabilizer muscles will develop and my arms will improve that lockout. If you truly want to get better, at anything, you need to work on your weaknesses, not your strengths.

That’s one of the great beauties of training. By pushing on the edges of your capabilities with enough determination your body will expand those capabilities. Walking becoming difficult? Take a walk to the door. Tomorrow the gate. Next week down to the corner and on and on. The bottom line is that failure isn’t final until you quit. Failure is a signpost and the road to your goals is full of them.

Nothing makes success harder to achieve than success itself. Success invites you to be content while failure challenges you to improve. Failure ignites those more primal emotions that drive us beyond our normal abilities. On top of this, the more successful you become at anything the harder it becomes to improve. It takes more and more work to achieve smaller and smaller gains. A veteran weightlifter at the pinnacle of his sport may train for months or years to add two kilograms to his best lift.

Right now  I’m loving my successes and my failures. In a few days I’ve got the 1RM Overhead Squat that I was looking forward to. While I smile at the thought of setting a new PR in my most important lift, I grumble at the thought of working on the hated Drop Snatch every day.The thought that it might erase a so-called disability and help me to do something that many healthy people will never get close to puts a different smile on my face . It’s the smile of grim determination and it’s my favorite one.

Until next time, be strong.