"The Mad Skills Exercise Encyclopedia" (Book Review)
Ben Musholt is a physical therapist with a passion for movement. It is his hunger for diverse and interesting ways of moving on a daily basis that form the concept behind his book. The Mad Skills Exercise Encyclopedia is a collection of over 700 exercises meant to help you enhance your fitness, while having fun doing it.
The Mad Skills Exercise Encyclopedia is organized in an intuitive manner, an approach that serves well for a book about intuitive movement. The book is a reference tool, rather than something to read from cover to cover.
The book has a definite beginning, middle, and end. Ben starts off with what to expect - a book packed to the brim with variations on simple and effective movements - and what not to expect – reps, sets, and workout plans. For some this absence of specific exercise combinations could be considered a minus point, but Ben counteracts this in two ways.
First, at the beginning, Ben explains the book is not meant to be a prescription, but more of a guide. Second, at the end, the book outlines a series of ideas on how you could incorporate these movements into a structured workout. In the middle are hundreds of pages filled with illustrations of bodyweight and free-weight movements, each with three to four bullet points of explanations.
The book is conveniently split into sections based on type of strength (e.g. upper, lower, core) or type of equipment (e.g. barbell, kettlebell, stability ball.) Ben has purposefully left out exercises that involve anything but the most basic equipment. This keeps with the simple and accessible vibe of the exercises and advice.
The simplicity of the book is a large part of its beauty. The movement illustrations are clear and well-spaced out. This factor, along with the bullet points describing each exercise, make it easy to see what is happening at a glance. It also makes it easy to flick through the book and compare exercise variations.
These exact same factors also lend themselves to the book’s only downfall. The illustrations are in black and white and are basic. This is potentially necessary given the sheer volume of exercises in the book, but sometimes the pictures do not give the whole story of how to perform the movement. However, knowing pictures can only show part of the story, Ben has created an online library of videos that give far more insight into many of these movements. He also has further resources available through his website.
The book is not only a worthwhile investment for the intrepid athlete, but also for both new and seasoned coaches:
- Athletes: Ben states that his personal goal is to do three fun physical activities each day. Sound like a good idea? Mad Skills is a great place to start if you want to keep up with him.
- New Coaches: This goes especially for those of you working outside or with limited equipment. You will find value in the pure amount of variations on basic movement patterns in this book.
- Seasoned Coaches: You may find variations on exercises you have been using for a while. I’ve often seen coaches become stale with the warm ups they use. This book is a perfect way to rejuvenate those aspects of your sessions.
As a coach who trains other coaches, I find it interesting what trainers take away from my sessions or resources. Sometimes it’s theoretical aspects of movement. Other times it might be a movement cue or even something as simple as a different perspective on a movement that was already known. Usually it’s a combination of these things - and Mad Skills offers a great combination of benefits to coaches.
What the book (purposefully) lacks in theory, it makes up for in clarity of cues and an incredible number of ideas and perspectives on common movement patterns such as the humble push up. Ben also encourages readers to invent their own original movements. In this way you can think of this book not only as a reference point, but also as a source of inspiration. So, in closing, I feel that Mad Skills Exercise Encyclopedia is a worthwhile addition to the bookshelf of anyone who prescribes exercise for a living or simply loves free movement.
“The Mad Skills Exercise Encyclopedia” is available for $33.29 on Amazon.com.