2 Steps Against Injury

By Mike De La Pava “MDLP”

So, you’re injured… The world is truly unfair and once you get home and the adrenaline wears off, it truly just sucks. I wrote a previous article titled, “Just Be Hurt” on some ideas to do while you are injured. I won’t sit here and tell you that it’s discipline over motivation, or beat you up for making poor training decisions; sometimes injuries happen, and it indeed is part of the game. It is straightforward to provide big picture items, or terminology like stay disciplined, believe in yourself, or love what you do, but sometimes those large umbrella ideas can drown you and seemingly unattainable.

I was asked many times over what I did to overcome my spine injury, and shortly after my bicep tear, what kept me with a positive outlook. It’s been some time since I dealt with my spine injury, but it remains an authentic thing in my life and a logical possibility for re-injury if not careful. During my time at “the bottom,” I developed some mental tasks, daily routines, and cues that helped me stay the course to spine recovery, which I feel will transfer into any injury or set back. I believe in action items, small daily and weekly steps that provide short term and realistic goals to get you out of the mental depths of injury. These small tasks will build the base for the big umbrella ideas mentioned above and hopefully provide long-lasting habits that never slip away, even when not injured.

Write it down:

We know from cognitive experiments and general marketing practices that human beings are visual creatures. From tattoos to cars, to the clothes we wear, we as humans seek visual aids in all aspects of life… so why not here? During my first few months of injury, I bought myself a giant paper board to hang up in my room. I have always written my goals down, but this time it was different. This board did not have long lost dreams of pulling 800, but rather positive sayings, cues, motivations and short term goals that kept me on track. I would write things down like “be patient,” “one good day is better than zero,” “walk down stairs without pain,” “air squat ten reps” etc. I would go on and on slowly building short term goals and mantras. Sounds silly, but I promise you it is a task easily overlooked during injury. Mental Depression, lack of motivation or lack of positive drive are ubiquitous during athletic injuries. So what do we do? We rebuild what has not broken: the mind. Writing, scratching off and achieving visual goals on a daily to weekly basis provides positive cognitive habits that can not only push the athlete forward but build constructive habits to have once the injury subsides. Injured or not, start now.

One in the hand is worth two in the bush: 

Deal with what you have now. What you were and what you think you will be is not the mindset to have while injured. I can’t put this into a qualitative study other than journals I’ve read on depression in athletes, but we do have a basic understanding that losing sight of the present tasks at hand can lead most people into a mental spiral of bad rehab decisions. How often do we find ourselves in the trap of saying “well I used to…” or even worse, “when I get back I’ll never…”. As a coach, I have heard this too many times to count, and as an athlete, I have said it enough to myself to cringe. So what do we do, MDLP? Start by analyzing what needs to be done to fix what we currently have. When I was hurt, the only tasks I could do to improve my current situation were the McGill Big 3, walk and move pristinely. Despite some early attempts to negotiate with Brian on exercises I wanted to do, I quickly learned to focus on what I could do. I did not dwell on movements I felt I could do but shouldn’t, what I would be squatting in five months, or how far I had fallen from a 700-pound deadlift. This does/ did not come easy, but I found myself being more unhappy when thinking of what I did or would do instead of being happy with what I could do. Master the tasks at hand, not only physically, but mentally as well. These daily practices will help build the same mental patterns that will be demanded from you when you are healed. Focus on what you can do, master daily habits, and don’t lose track of the work that needs to be done with what has not happened yet. This will help keep your mind and body from slipping into the proverbial “back in my day” bullshit many of us become.

As much as I could go on and on with other tasks like specific rehab, or YouTube videos to watch, no other mental or daily habits provided a more substantial foundation for my recovery than these two. I would go further, as I mentioned above, that practicing these daily habits has allowed them to remain in my arsenal den after recovering, allowing me to train with and perform at a much higher mental level. The main focus of this article is to provide real-life, tangible practices that are not beyond our scope of daily practice. These are not motivational memes or ideologies that are easily acquired when healthy but seem unreachable when you’re genuinely injured. Thanks to studies in MBSR at U-Mass (mindful body stress reduction) we have a fundamental understanding of the incredible mental value of daily practice. These are two that that should be in the arsenal of all athletes and coaches alike.

“Never Stray from The Way” – MDLP

To read more from Mike and to follow his and his gym’s training click HERE.  To read more about the healthy mental habits that contribute to recovery, be sure to grab your copy of Gift of Injury, co-authored by Brian Carroll and Dr. Stuart McGill.

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Michael “MDLP” De La Pava is currently a competitive Strongman and owner of The Battle Axe Gym. Born in Miami, Florida into a Colombian household, Michael finished his schooling by attending Penn State University where he graduated with a Degree in Psychology. Having his roots in martial arts, he would go on to compete in various sports as a Muay Thai fighter, Powerlifter, and rugby player before committing himself fully to Strongman. During this time, he opened Miami’s first Strongman gym, The Battle Axe, where he currently coaches athletes from various disciplines including powerlifting, MMA fighters, Strongman, officers of multiple authorities and enlisted and active military operators. Competing in Strongman for over 6 years has given Michael the opportunity to rank as high as 15th in the nation (105kg), won Florida’s Strongest man (1st in 2014 and 2nd in 2015 in the 105kg class), lift and load a 420 pound Atlas stone, log press 335, pull 700, and most importantly, share the competitive battlefield with some of the best in the game. During this journey, Michael suffered what some would consider a potentially career-ending spine injury. It was at this time that Brian and Michael would begin working together to not only rehab his spine, allowing him to return to Strongman but also develop a new Strongman training program revolving around the 10/20 philosophy. Strongman and coaching have given Michael the opportunity to travel around the nation and the world to train, coach and be coached, as well as share ideas with various leaders in the strength community. Michael’s experience and network in strongman brings a welcome connection with the ever-growing sport of Strongman to the 10/20 team and PRS family.

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