Aug 17, 2016
Cameras Rolling

This article first appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Training & Conditioning.

Athletic trainers are used to working behind the scenes, so they are rarely thrust into the national spotlight of a primetime television show. But that’s just what happened to Mathew Miller, MS, ATC, CSCS, a Las Vegas-based athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach who recently showcased his skills for the NBC reality television show “Strong.”

Airing from April to June, “Strong” paired 10 male fitness trainers with 10 female contestants who wanted to improve their overall health and fitness. Each week, the teams competed in physical challenges, and the last pair standing split a cash prize of up to $500,000.

Miller first heard about “Strong” while working as the Strength and Conditioning Coach for the Las Vegas acrobatic water show “Le Rêve-The Dream,” where he trained acrobats, gymnasts, aerialists, and synchronized swimmers to perform 10 shows a week. One of the athletes from Le Rêve reached out to a friend who was casting for “Strong” and told them about Miller. The show’s producers were intrigued by Miller’s experience at Le Rêve, and since he was eager to share his platform with a larger audience, he agreed to sign on.

“There’s a lot of bad information out there on the best ways to lose weight and stay healthy,” Miller says. “Because this show emphasized overall fitness and nutrition and not just weight loss, it mirrored a lot of my beliefs. That was a major draw for me.”

For the show, Miller had to devise a workout regimen for his partner, Nicole Bentley, a 25-year-old cocktail server, that would help her get in shape. It also had to prepare her to complete each week’s unexpected physical challenges. One required Miller and Bentley to climb a 36-foot cylinder while tethered together, collecting weights and attaching them to their belts as they made their way to the top.

However, the dramatic nature of the show occasionally made it difficult for Miller to plan workouts. “One of the biggest hurdles was that we never knew the challenge specifics, so I couldn’t say ‘Okay, to prepare for this, we need to do this exercise,'” he says. “Instead, I focused on a progression that would build whole-body strength based on five core movements: squats, overhead presses, bent rows, dead lifts, and pushing exercises like push-ups.”

The shooting schedule wreaked further havoc on Miller’s workout plans. “There’s a saying in television: ‘Hurry up and wait,'” he says. “We’d sometimes have to stop in the middle of a training session because we’d be needed to film a segment, but then we’d be sitting around waiting for it to happen.”

To top it off, Bentley suffered pes anserine bursitis early in the competition, forcing Miller to work around the injury. “That’s actually where my athletic training background paid off the most,” he says. “I had to be creative and devise the most efficient and safest way to train her through the injury.”

Despite Bentley’s early setback, she and Miller made it all the way to the final three before being eliminated. As a result of being on the show, Bentley gained six pounds of lean muscle, lowered her body fat percentage from 32 percent to 23 percent, and reduced her resting heart rate from 59 to 51.

Although he and Bentley didn’t take home the top prize, Miller was glad for the opportunity to showcase his abilities to a national audience. And he was thankful that his non-traditional career path is what opened the door. “When I finished college with my athletic training degree, I wanted to work for a professional team or a major university,” says Miller, who recently started working for Cirque de Soleil in Las Vegas. “But when I heard about the opening at Le Rêve, I realized I would have the chance to work with some world-class athletes at the top of their profession.

“Athletic trainers have skills and abilities that enable them to work with athletes in all sorts of capacities, and we need to be open to that,” he continues. “We can’t underestimate what this profession leaves us capable of.”

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