Q/A with Ben Musholt, author of Mad Skills

The fitness fanatic and physical therapist talks about his comprehensive new exercise encyclopedia—five years in the making.

By Caitlin Feldman October 31, 2013

Physical therapist by trade, movement extraordinaire for life, Portland-based parkour athlete Ben Musholt, 35, teaches the rest of us how we can become movement experts in his new exercise encyclopedia Mad Skills. Musholt, who competed—and was injured—on the reality TV show American Ninja Warrior, knows just how important strength is both for competition and recovery.

With over 700 illustrations depicting workouts and strengthening exercises, Musholt maintains his self-published book is the first (and most complete) of its kind for this generation of athletes.

What gave you the idea for Mad Skills?

Well there really wasn’t a reference tool that I could see back then that embodied the type of gymnastics training I did in high school and through martial arts. There’s a lot of movements out there that weren’t in the mainstream at all, and I just thought, "This needs to be out there." I was kind of familiar with some of the exercise encyclopedias that came out a long time ago, but our generation doesn’t have an updated version of it.

Who’s the book for?

It’s for athletes. People who are probably on the outside of the fitness mainstream – skaters, snowboarders, break dancers—that kind of crowd. People who need to have a high level of athletic ability but wouldn’t feel comfortable in a gym. They’d rather spend their time elsewhere.

In Mad Skills, you talk a lot about your relationship with movement. How does it fit into your life?

It started out really young. My parents got me into karate at age six, and I did that all the way through high school, and then got into gymnastics at age nine and was a competitive gymnast in high school. I started getting broken bones. I was also a skateboarder and snowboarder. I dislocated my shoulder a couple times and broke my knee, so constantly I had to go to physical therapy. It became a natural, professional career path. Right out of high school, I knew I wanted to do PT. And PTs are all about movement. 

How do PT and fitness overlap?

Active people get hurt. That’s part of the name of the game, especially if you’re pushing yourself.

Is there a name for the kind of fitness that you do?

So, a couple years ago we started training parkour, which is just a name given to urban gymnastics—it’s just about moving through the environment. It’s basically parkour training, lots of bouldering. 

Join Musholt at the release party for Mad Skills Nov. 7 at Base Camp Brewing

How comprehensive is Mad Skills?

Someone who is versed in anatomy and physiology would notice that there are definitely some movements that aren’t in there. All the big joints are hit, but not specifically each individual muscle. I tried to, honestly, if I had another hundred pages… Maybe that will be a future edition. Volume II might be more acrobatic.

Any desire to bring your book to life?
Down the line, I could see opening some movement-themed space. I wouldn’t want to open up just another gym; it would have a unique angle to it. Maybe related to parkour and obstacle training background. People enjoy moving in space like that, so providing the opportunity would be really cool.

So, when’s the next volume coming out?

My wife and I have an agreement —not for at least another year.

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