Review of Ben Musholt’s “Mad Skills Exercise Encyclopedia”

This past July I was on tour with my band in northern California when I came across an article on Breaking Muscle written by a Portland-based physical therapist and parkour athlete named Ben Musholt. The more I researched this guy, the more I liked him! A short list of his experience includes parkour, freerunning, gymnastics, martial arts, capoeira, trail running, snowboarding, and beyond. I greatly respect whenever a fitness professional is well-versed in multiple disciplines instead of just a single domain or speciality. Check out some of Ben’s skills from his American Ninja Warrior Regional Semi-Final in 2012 (ignore the title, the name is wrong):

I also learned that Ben was raising funds for an exercise encyclopedia he was planning to release in October called Mad Skills300+ pages of workout movements with over 700 illustrations on disciplines ranging from bodyweight to kettlebells to barbells and more? I’m in! I made a donation and have been eager to see the finished product ever since. Here’s the book trailer from Ben Musholt’s Mad Skills Exercise Encyclopedia (available on Amazon here):

Having donated to the fundraising campaign, I was afforded the opportunity to read through an electronic copy of the book this past weekend, and in short, I love it! There are so many positives to how this book was put together. First off, in the Introduction Ben writes, “The broader array of movement skills that you train, the better athlete you will be.” Sound familiar? In my “What Are We Really Training For Anyway?” post I concluded something very similar: “Train to learn new skills, gradually and progressively, so as to become capable of and masterful in more complex movements.”

Second, this book achieves exactly what it set out to become: an exercise encyclopedia filled with brief descriptions and illustrations of movements; not some sort of esoteric treatise on movement philosophy. Because of that, Mad Skills is an invaluable resource for personal trainers, CrossFit coaches, martial artists, and athletes of any sport. Heading into the gym to do squats today? Check out Ben’s chapter on leg strength (aptly titled “Pillars of Steel,” love it!) to get some ideas of possible subtle variations on your routine. Or do you need some ideas on programming for your athletes? Ben includes an entire chapter on push-ups, so there’s no reason to stagnate, plateau, or get bored in your training anymore.

This book is also very comprehensive. It is quite a daunting task to set out and list all the possible exercise movements that are out there, and I can only imagine that it must have taken Ben years to compile all this information. Here’s a brief list of the variety of entries in Mad Skills: shadow box, ginga, cossack squat, plate pinch curl, bodyweight chest fly, zercher lunge, neider press, barbell sit-up, double KB windmill, KB bear crawl, sandbag overhead squat, plank push-up, breakdance push-up, handstand leg raise, cocorinha squat, precision jump, archer pull-up, towel drag, quadruped skiers, stability ball bird dog, fireman carry, scorpion downward dog pose, revolved side angle, rectus femoris stretch, levator and scapula stretch. Phew!

Lastly, the last chapter in the book, titled “Cooking it up,” is a very straightforward, to-the-point summary of how to construct an exercise program. Ben mentions general athleticism vs. sport specificity, sets and reps, variety, social support, recovery, and the bottom line, which is that “movement is the answer” and “just go play.” And it is important to note that throughout the book Ben is able to do just that: keep it playful. We’re talking about exercise people… moving your body and external objects through space because, in one way or another, we want to do it! As a resource to be referred to time and time again over the next few decades, I highly recommend Ben Musholt’s Mad Skills Exercise Encyclopedia to all human movers.

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