Alexander Skarsgård’s Trainer Shares His 'Northman' Back Workout for Warrior Muscle

·3-min read

Alexander Skarsgård may have dreamed of playing Amleth, a Viking warrior prince bent on revenge in The Northman long ago; but, as his trainer and fellow Swede Magnus Lygdbäck reveals he actually had a relatively short amount of time to prepare for the role.

Skarsgård and Lygdbäck's work on The Northman initially began while the former was filming a TV project in Vancouver, Canada, and it wasn’t until the two moved to Belfast, Northern Ireland in February 2020 that their work on The Northman really stepped up. A typical day for Skarsgård in Belfast would include an intense morning workout, performed in the actor’s garage gym, followed by a trip to the studio to be put through stunt rehearsals.

At this point, Skarsgård was formulating the kind of character Amleth was going to be, but in terms of how he would look, both trainer and actor already had a very specific idea in mind. "When we talked about this character," said Lygdbäck, "we knew that we wanted something a little bit bigger and thicker than Tarzan. We weren't too concerned with the body fat."

Because they were less concerned with the amount of body fat Skarsgård was carrying, he did less cardio than usual, and certainly less than he did when he played Tarzan back in 2016. Forgoing cardio allowed him to build more muscle mass, but they didn't just want the character to be intimidating and hulking, he had to be able to move too.

In The Northman, Skarsgård’s character is a member of the Berserker tribe, whose members have either wolves or bears as their spirit animals. Amleth, however, is a hybrid of both, "so we wanted that size and strength but we also wanted him to be able to move like a wolf," Lygdbäck said.

To do this, they created a four-day split that Skarsgård would perform five days a week (with the fifth day being a repetition of the first day in the programme). Each day they would target a different muscle group and use strength training, compound movements, isolated strength exercises, as well as shoulder and hip prep to get the actor ready to play a sword-wielding and axe-swinging warrior prince.

The split was legs on day one, chest on day two followed by back and arms on days three and four. Core exercises were completed every day and daily banded warm-ups were incorporated for shoulder and hip mobility.

Alexander Skarsgård's The Northman Back Workout


5 to 10 minutes

Banded Warmup (3 exercises back to back)

  • Straight-arm pulldown

  • Wide-back pull

  • Lateral woodchop

Farmer's Walk

Reps: 30 steps

Rest: One minute to 90 secs rest

Sets: Three

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

Lat Pulldown

Reps: 10 reps

Rest: Two minutes

Sets: Three

Alternating Row

Reps: Eight each side

Rest: Two minutes

Sets: Three

Straight-arm Lift Rotation

Reps: Eight each side

Rest: Two minutes

Sets: Three

Kneeling Halo

Reps: 10

Rest: One minute

Sets: Three

Rolling Knee Tuck

One min on and one minute off for three rounds

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