During the process of helping Alexander Skarsgård transform his physique for The Legend of Tarzan, celebrity trainer Magnus Lygdback and the actor established a friendship and bond that is still strong to this day. During the near year-long commitment of the film, Skarsgård informed Lygdback about an idea he had for a project that centered around Vikings. The fellow Swede could see the passion in his friend’s eyes when discussing the details and he made it known that if the project was ever to be brought to fruition, he would be sure to get a call.

With two very different and busy schedules, the pair would catch up whenever Skarsgård would be in Los Angeles. The call finally came sometime in the middle of 2019. The project was The Northman. Directed by Robert Eggers, the film centers around a young Viking prince on his quest to avenge his father’s death.

Having already had the experience from Tarzan to pull from, Lygdback already knew how great of a work ethic Skarsgård had and how he would respond to the nutritional and physical training. They already had ideas on what they wanted the character to look like when they got to work that December.

We spoke with Lygdback about the process of transforming Skarsgård into Amlet for The Northman as well as how he helps push clients like Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Alicia Vikander, and others to reach their physical best. You can also follow the same programs as his star clientele at MagnusMethodApp.com – powered by Playbook.

Magnus Lygdback drinking a cup of coffee with Alexander Skarsgard
Trainer/nutritionist Magnus Lygdback and actor Alexander Skarsgard on the set of Robert Eggers Viking epik, The Northman, a Focus Features release. Aidan Monaghan/Focus Features LLC

Magnus Lygdback Monitors and Measures

I’m not a huge fan of bulking too much, even though I call it the bulking or buildup cycle. We had a big buildup cycle, in which I made sure he was on a calorie surplus every day so that he wasn’t losing body fat because he’s normally lean. You can always pretend to know how many calories someone should eat, but we all know that’s highly individual and depending on what you do in a day, it changes. I like to monitor my actors, and I monitored him by measuring his fat every week — just making sure he wasn’t too lean in the buildup phase and also making sure he didn’t gain too much body fat. We kind of built up all the way until we put him on a diet, and he was on that diet for three weeks. Normally, I 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 one time.

Build Mass and Get Thick

Honestly, the guy is getting older, and we knew he was doing a lot of his own stunts and moving around. The key part of his body were his shoulders. We needed to make sure that we prepped his shoulders for all the fighting, swinging a sword and an ax. We made sure to do some extra accessory work on the shoulders. Other than that, it was about building mass and getting thick.

We did a lot of strength training and different kinds of training. The strength training was a four-day split, and I always scheduled seven days a week with my actors. We never end up doing seven and we take a break when we need to. Anywhere from five to six days a week, we would do strength training. Legs on Day 1, chest and front-side shoulders on Day 2. Back, back-side shoulders, and outside shoulders on Day 3. Arms on Day 4. On each day, I always do high-intensity cardio or regular cardio and core. The way I approach core training is I do it every day, but I make sure to work different parts of the core as part of the splits.

I’m a huge fan of the high-protein breakfast — normally eggs in any form. For him, it would be four to five eggs. During the three-week period, he didn’t get any carbs with breakfast. We did a protein-based snack after breakfast. Lunch would consist of a protein, slow carbs, good fats, and vegetables. After that, another high-protein snack. Dinner would consist of protein, carbs, good fats, vegetables, and fiber.

Alexander Skarsgard training for ‘The Northman’ by performing a kettlebell workout
Actor Alexander Skarsgard in training on the set of Robert Eggers Viking Epic, The Northman a focus features release. Aidan Monaghan/Focus Features LLC

Prepping During the Pandemic

I need to say I lucked up big time. I didn’t feel lucky at the time, but we were lucky because the pandemic hit. I started with him in December and started traveling to Vancouver where he was filming The Stand, and I started building him up, and then we traveled to Northern Ireland. I got him in really good shape, and then the pandemic hit. We were two days out from filming, and we had to close shop. He flew back to Sweden, and I flew back to LA. All of the gyms were closed, and he was isolated on some island with his family.

He did some bodyweight workouts, but he lost a lot of his gains. We started back up 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 prep because it was two training cycles. In Tarzan, he was more slim and agile and this time he gained about 20 pounds because we wanted a thicker and more imposing look. In hindsight, I’m happy we got that time because you’ve seen the trailer.

Pushing Clients to New Limits

It’s a lot of psychology obviously. I always say you have to figure out what type of brain you have in front of you, what makes them tick and how do you push them the right way and not the wrong way — how do you communicate with them. It’s all about building a character. Even with having fundamentals, that stays the same. I have my go to programming. Depending on where you start, what we want you to look like, and what we want to integrate into the character, it’s sports-specific stuff or skill-based stuff. If you look at my programming, I’m pretty open with it. Strength-wise, it is a lot of the same stuff. I’m not one who is trying to reinvent the wheel and come up with new fancy exercises. I believe in sticking to a routine, the fundamentals, and getting really good at that.

Have a Plan

As long as you have a plan, you can be patient. You can’t rush things. You have to build a strong foundation with anyone you work with because if we don’t go through the fundamentals, you don’t move the right way, you are going to get injured along the way because that’s how extreme it is to push the body that hard for the short time that we have. You need to be patient, take the right steps, start with the basics and build on that foundation. Before I say yes to a project, I try to do research on who I’m working with and I always have a conversation with them before I say yes. I do want to know who I’m working with and see if it’s someone who wants me because I’ve done a good job in the past. If that’s the case, I’m not going to say yes to that because every single job, I need to know that they understand and they’re willing to put in the work. That goes on my resume as well. If I don’t do a good job, then I’m not going to get my next gig. It’s also not rewarding either to spend a year — six months prepping someone, and six months filming and they really don’t put in the work.

Follow Magnus Lygdback on Instagram @magnuslygdback