2022 Rewind: Watch: 'Look Like a Bear, Move Like a Wolf.' How Trainer Turned Alexander Skarsgård into 'The Northman'

Saturday April 23, 2022
Originally published on April 21, 2022

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Alexander Skarsgård had seriously worked out for one movie before — "The Legend of Tarzan" — in 2016; but when he collaborated with Robert Eggers on the Viking epic "The Northman," he knew it would require another training regimen. He also decided to return to the trainer that helped him get buff for "Tarzan," Swedish trainer and nutritionist Magnus Lygdbäck. For Lygdbäck, "Tarzan" was also his first Hollywood project.

For the role, The Insider reports, Skarsgård put on 20 pounds of muscle through training with both heavy and light weights and a slight calorie surplus diet with no foods off-limits, Lygdbäck explained.

Their goal was somewhat different than "Tarzan." For the Viking hero Prince Amleth, Lygdbäck said: "We wanted Alex to have a little thicker look, a little more viking," Lygdbäck said. "We needed him to look like a bear but move like a wolf."

Complicating matters was that prior to shooting in March 2020, the movie was put on hold due to the pandemic. At that point, the pair had trained for three months. Skarsgård went without a gym for a few months, but he returned to train during the summer, which made him even in better shape than when they had hoped.

One factor that Lygdbäck considered was Skarsgård's age. Keeping him injury-free at 45 was important, so they did lots of mobility work. Skarsgård trained five times a week, with a potential sixth session of active recovery or mobility, Lygdbäck told the Insider.

Lygdbäck broke down the three phases of Skarsgård's fitness program to Collider: the bulk-up phase, the cutting phase, and then the maintenance phase. Here's how he put it:

"You've got the build-up, the bulk-up phase, which is the phase where you want to gain as much muscle mass as possible. You want to build a strong foundation making sure that you don't get injured later when filming. That's also the phase where you get to eat a lot of food, which is the best, best phase if you ask Alex. Alex loves to eat so ask him and he'll tell you, that's his favorite cycle. Then we have a cutting cycle is where you want to try to keep all that muscle mass on and shred some fat. For 'The Northman,' we had about three weeks when we did that. Normally, I do eight to ten weeks, but we didn't want Alex to be too shredded. He's shredded enough, right? And we wanted him to look a little thicker. The maintenance cycle, which is what I'm gonna take you through today, I'm gonna show you what a normal day before working on a set would look like. That's when you want to keep all that muscle mass on, you want to make sure that you prepare every single day so you don't get injured while swinging an ax for 12 hours straight."

He also explained his somewhat unorthodox approach to workouts and nutrition. For instance, he told the Hollywood Reporter that someone should not work for an hour a day.

"What doesn't happen in the first hour, doesn't happen in the second hour, I always say," he told THR. "No one can really handle more than an hour in the gym. If you do, that means you're not doing the right things. When you hear about an actor prepping for a role, you hear them talking about working out for four or five hours a day. What they really mean is all the stunt work, all the technical stuff, but actual physical training, you cannot do more than an hour a day."

Lygdbäck has created an app for daily fitness and inspiration. (For more information, follow this link. In a promotional YouTube video for the app, he writes: "I have trained many of the world's top actors, actresses, and artists to help them become the superstars you see today. In my app, I share the exact training programs and nutrition plans I used to help them achieve their results!"