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How Trainer Magnus Lygdback Got Alexander Skarsgard in Shape for ‘The Northman’ With 1-Hour Workouts


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Magnus Lygbäck doesn’t mess around. The Swedish trainer and nutritionist — credited with perfecting superhero-like physiques for star clients like Gal Gadot on Wonder Woman, Alicia Vikander on Tomb Raider and James McAvoy on Glass — has a laser-like focus in the gym with training plans that require maximum effort and minimal time. Few know that better than Alexander Skarsgård as the fellow Swede reteamed with Lygbäck for Robert Eggers’ Viking epic The Northman after first working together on the live-action Tarzan.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Lygbäck on Monday night outside TCL Chinese Theatre, site of the Focus Features premiere, to talk about why he limits workout sessions to 1-hour, his preference for “treat meals” over cheat meals, and offering up Northman-inspired workouts on his app.

I read that you’re always on set, watching monitors to make sure your work is translating. Do you normally do that for clients?

I always do that. It’s not normal, but it’s normal for me. I started doing that when I started with Alex back 2016 on Tarzan. That was my first big Hollywood movie and I did it back then and I still do every project. I think that’s why I’ve had a lot of success as well because it’s in the details. I have to make sure that he looks the part, make sure that he’s warmed up, pumped up, looking at the monitor, making sure that you got the right depth in the back if it’s a close-up. It’s all in the details and movement coaching as well.

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Alexander Skårsgard and his trainer Magnus Lygdbäck kick back while filming Robert Eggers’ The Northman. Lygbäck tells THR that he prepped his star client for six months ahead of filming (with some unexpected added time due to COVID-19).

Courtesy of Aidan Monaghan /Focus Features

What is Alex like as a client?

I’m the first one to say this and I say it all the time: He is the most hardworking, humble guy in the room. You can’t ask for better. I knew when I got the call [for The Northman] that this was going to be great.

Everyone is talking about his traps …

That’s movement coaching. Actually, his traps are not bigger than anything else on his body; it’s just the way he positioned himself. It’s posture. I worked with James McAvoy for Glass and you could see the same thing. He had the same hunched-over, Hulky look. It’s all physical manipulation and movement.

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Alexander Skarsgård is seen here filming Robert Eggers’ The Northman.

Courtesy of Focus Features

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Alexander Skarsgård in The Northman

Courtesy of Aidan Monaghan/Focus Features

You’re a firm believer in allowing cheat meals and only doing one hour of exercise each day. Why so?

I don’t like to call them cheat meals. I like to call them treat meals because it’s not cheating if it’s good food. Balance is life. It’s everything.

Then what about the hour of exercise?

What doesn’t happen in the first hour, doesn’t happen in the second hour, I always say. 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.

You mentioned training Alexander for Tarzan as your first Hollywood project. How has Hollywood changed your business?

I’m standing here talking to you. For 21 years I’ve been doing this, and I’ve been working with the biggest pop stars in the world for a very long time — the Katy Perrys and the Britney Spearses — but you don’t talk about it. When you do movie projects, you actually do press and talk about it. So, it’s changed everything, obviously, and given me a platform.

Why don’t you talk about the music stars?

I don’t talk about any client unless there’s a reason.

Let’s talk about something else — your app.

I have all my superhero programs on the app, the Wonder Woman, Tomb Raider, Batman, all the projects that I’ve been involved with. I have a new, six-week Northman challenge that I put together the way Alex’s program would look. It’s a nutrition plan and a six-week challenge, for both men and women.

That’s great. Do you know what’s next?

I’m actually working with Anya right now. I’m prepping her for Furiosa. I met Anya on Glass, when I worked with James McAvoy, and then on The Northman again. She’s lovely, and she thought I was OK, too.

Last question: What’s your treat meal?

Oh, how long do you have? Pizza, burrata, steaks, dessert, tiramisu, a glass of wine. I love food. Food and wine.

Interview edited for length and clarity. 

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