How Magnus Lygdback reworked Alexander Skarsgard for The Northman

While helping Alexander Skarsgård transform his body for The Legend of Tarzan, famed trainer Magnus Lygdback and the actor forged a friendship and bond that remains strong to this day. During almost a year's engagement with the film, Skarsgård informed Lygdback of an idea he had for a project centered around Vikings. The fellow Swede could see the passion in his friend's eyes as he discussed the details and he announced he would be sure to get a call if the project ever came to fruition.

With two very different and busy schedules, the couple caught up whenever Skarsgård was in Los Angeles. Sometime in mid-2019, the call finally came. The project was called The rthman. Directed by Robert Eggers, the film follows a young Viking prince on his quest to avenge his father's death.

Having already had Tarzan's experience to draw from, Lygdback already knew how great Skarsgård's work ethic was and how he would respond to the nutritional and physical training. They already had ideas of what the character would look like when they got to work in December.

We spoke to Lygdback about the process of transforming Skarsgård into Amlet for The rthman and how he's helping clients like Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Alicia Vikander and more to look their best. At - powered by Playbook - you can follow the same programs as its star clientele.

Trainer/nutritionist Magnus Lygdback and actor Alexander Skarsgard on the set of Robert Egger's Viking epic The rthman, a Focus Features publication. Aidan Monaghan/Focus Features LLC

Magnus Lygdback monitors and measures

I'm not a big fan of too much bulk, although I call it the bulking or bulking cycle. We had a big bulking cycle where I made sure he was in a calorie surplus every day so he wouldn't lose body fat because he's normally lean. You can always pretend you know how many calories someone should be eating, but we all know that's very individual and it changes depending on what you do in a day. I like to watch my actors and I would monitor him by measuring his fat every week just to make sure he wasn't too lean during the bulking phase and also that he wasn't gaining too much body fat. We built all the way up to putting him on a diet and he did that diet for three weeks. I usually want six weeks with someone, but I knew his body so well from Tarzan. I had old notes and I knew how to train him. That's the beauty of working with someone more than once.

Build mass and get fat

Honestly the guy is getting older and we knew he was doing a lot of his own stunts and moves. The key part of his body was his shoulders. We had to make sure we prepared his shoulders for all the fighting, wielding a sword and an axe. We made sure to do some additional accessory work on the shoulders. Otherwise, it was all about bulking up and getting fat.

We did a lot of strength training and different types of training. The strength training was divided into four days and I always planned with my actors seven days a week. We never do seven and take a break when necessary. We did strength training five to six days a week. Legs on Day 1, chest and front shoulders on Day 2. Back, back shoulders and outer shoulders on Day 3. Arms on Day 4. Every day I always do high intensity cardio or regular cardio and core. The way I approach core training is that I do it every day, but I make sure to work different parts of the core as part of the splits.

I'm a big fan of high protein breakfasts - usually eggs in any form. For him it would be four to five eggs. During the three-week period, he ate no carbohydrates for breakfast. We made a protein based snack after breakfast. Lunch would consist of a protein, slow carbs, good fats and vegetables. Then another protein-rich snack. Dinner would consist of protein, carbohydrates, good fats, vegetables and fiber.

Alexander Skarsgard does a kettlebell workout for The Northman Actor Alexander Skarsgard in training on the set of Robert Egger's Viking Epic, The rthman a Focus Features Release. Aidan Monaghan/Focus Features LLC

Prepare during the pandemic

I have to say I was very lucky. I wasn't lucky then, but we were lucky because the pandemic hit. I started with him in December and went to Vancouver where he was filming The Stand and I started building him up and then we went to rthern Ireland. I got him in really good shape and then the pandemic hit. We were two days away from filming and had to close shop. He flew back to Sweden and I flew back to LA. All gyms were closed and he was isolated on an island with his family.

He's done some bodyweight workouts, but he's lost a lot of his gains. We started again in June and it became like a natural training cycle. We started filming in September. It turned out really great because he was in even better shape than in March. It's hard to say how much time we had to prepare because it was two training cycles. In Tarzan he was slimmer and more agile and this time he gained about 20 pounds because we wanted a bigger and more imposing look. In hindsight, I'm glad we got that time because you saw the trailer.

Push customers to new frontiers

It's obviously a lot of psychology. I always say you need to figure out what kind of brain you're looking at, what makes them tick, and how to push them in the right direction rather than the wrong way - how to communicate with them. It's about building a character. Even if you have basics, that stays the same. I have to start programming. Depending on where you start, what you want to look like and what we want to put into the character, it might be sport specific things or skill based things. If you look at my programming, I'm pretty open about it. In terms of strength, it's a lot of the same stuff. I'm not someone who tries to reinvent the wheel and come up with new fancy exercises. I believe in sticking to a routine, the basics, and getting really good at it.

To have a plan

As long as you have a plan, you can be patient. You can't rush anything. You have to build a strong foundation with everyone you work with because if we don't go through the basics you're not moving properly and you're going to hurt yourself in the process because that's how extreme it is to push things, it's so hard for the body short time we have. You have to be patient, take the right steps, start with the basics and build from that foundation. Before I say yes to a project, I try to research who I'm working with and I always have a chat with them before I say yes. I want to know who I'm working with and see if it's someone who wants me because I've done good work in the past. If that's the case I won't say yes to that because with every single job I need to know that they understand and are willing to put in the work. This is also on my resume. If I don't do a good job, I won't get my next gig. It's not worth spending a year on either - six months to prep someone and six months to film and they really don't put in the work.

Follow Magnus Lygdback on Instagram @magnuslygdback

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