How Alexander Skarsgard Transformed Into a Viking for ‘The Northman’

Amanda Gerla

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In Robert Eggers’ new epic “The Northman,” out this weekend, Alexander Skarsgård seeks revenge on a man who has killed both his parents and usurped the throne from his royal father. It’s a noble task, one that sees his character scaling mountains, rowing through tumultuous waters and getting into brutal, primal, combat. Tasked with such body-intensive missions, it makes sense that the 45 year-old actor would need to make some serious physical transformations in preparation for the film — not only to convincingly take on the role of a Nordic Viking but to simply make it through a scene without breaking down from exhaustion.

Skarsgård’s compelling portrayal as a bulging warrior with superhuman strength (and very ripped abs) is all thanks to fitness trainer and physical movement coach Magnus Lygdback who first worked with the actor on “Tarzan” in 2019.

“His spirit animal is a wolf and and a bear so we wanted to really build that into the character,” Lygdback tells Variety.  “We needed him to move like a wolf, and have the vibe, presence and look of a bear like in the big, hulking way he walks.”

Anyone who’s seen the film, or even promo images showing Skarsgård in character, won’t be surprised to find out that a main area that they focused on during training was the shoulders. His primary weapon is a heavy axe that he unsparingly puts to use — in one scene, he chops an enemy down from a horse.

His workout regimen included six gym sessions a week, one a day, for three months leading up to filming. Balance is key for Lygdback, who doesn’t agree with the 2-3 hours of grueling work a day that other trainers put onto their clients for these types of movies. “All you do after the first hour is just start to break down your body,” he says.

His strategy seems to be working. He’s become one of the most desired trainers in Hollywood, known for his work preparing James McAvoy’s body contortion’s in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” in 2019, buffing up Ben Affleck for “Justice League” and shaping Alicia Vikander’s body for the Tomb Raider movie. Recently, he launched his own app called MagnusMethod, where he he shares the exact workout routines and nutrition plans he’s used for these high-wattage stars.

So, what are Lygdback’s top fitness and wellness recs? Even if you aren’t transforming into a Viking, here’s how you can get into shape Lygdback-style — from the comfort of your home.


Resistance Bands

Courtesy of Magnus Method

“I’m a big fan of bands when it comes to warming up and working on stability and mobility in the shoulders. Kettlebells are good as well. We used a lot of backup warm-ups for shoulders and then to build up top we did a lot of strength training with weights.”



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Courtesy of Theragun

“My go-to [for recovery] is Theragun, for sure. Jason, the founder of the company, was the first to do it and as a physiotherapist he’s super smart. They’re always one and two steps in front of everyone else. They’re doing research on it, they’re actually paying for research to see how different types of vibrations will treat people differently. They’re definitely by far the best. I have all of them.”



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Lazy loaded image

Courtesy of Tonal

“Tonal is a superior machine for many different reasons. For one, you have a big screen with on-demand classes, even kids classes. Kids can do group training without touching the actual machine itself. But then you have these two big arms or wires coming out, which turns it into two. It comes across and it will feel your strength, it will dial in how strong you are and give you the right resistance. And it can also put more load on Essentrics, which is fantastic. And can give you up to 250 pounds for resistance.”



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Olly Muscle Recovery Sleep Gummies (44% Off)

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Courtesy of Amazon

“When traveling or being being jet lagged and trying to get into a new time zone I have a little protocol that I do…I really like Olly Gummies. They have melatonin, which is a natural hormone that gets released when you get tired, L-Theanine which comes from green tea leaves and lowers your stress hormones in your body, and chamomile, lemon balm and blackberry.”

Olly Muscle Recovery Gummies


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Un’sweet Wine Zero-Sugar Wine

Courtesy of Un’sweet Wine

“Well, personally, I drink Michelob Ultra which is 95 calories. That’s my favorite beer. But Un’sweet Wine, which I co-founded, is by far the best option which is unsweet, zero-sugar wine. That is something you can get away with when training…and there’s no difference whatsoever [in the taste].

We were in Belfast in Northern Ireland [when we were shooting] so we didn’t have access to any sweet wine back then but we did have a glass of low sugar wine on the weekends when we made dinner. It was a pandemic so we were stuck in our house together so we had a glass of wine and watched some soccer.”



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