Robert Eggers’ The Northman, released in cinemas last week, sees Alexander Skarsgård in his biggest physical shape for any film to date. The Legend of Tarzan actor plays revenge-seeking Viking prince Amleth, in the story Shakespeare based Hamlet on.
Wearing little more than animal hide and a scowl, Skarsgård spends much of the film wielding an axe and wreaking bloody revenge – making the filming process a serious physical endurance test. The secret to his success? Pro trainer Magnus Lygdbäck, who worked with Skarsgård on the role.
Since working together on The Legend of Tarzan, Magnus Lygdbäck and Alexander Skarsgård have become good friends, and were eager to team up again for “The Northman”.
“I was so excited”, says Lygdbäck to Men's Health about the moment the call came in. “You know what you’re getting with Alexander. You know the work ethic, his genetics are great and he never complains”. No bad thing, as the process – which required Skarsgård to significantly bulk up – was intense.
Lygdbäck is keen to stress that nutrition is just as important as training when it comes to body transformation. “It’s not a 50/50 or 60/40 split – it’s 100/100. You have to get on top of both. You can’t train and have a poor diet and expect results. You can run a marathon but it’s not going to give you a six-pack”.
Diet-wise, Skarsgård's diet varied from 3700 calories a day down to 3200, depending on which phase he was in. That said, Lygdbäck is more interested in nutrition than calorie-counting.
“I’m a macro guy – I don’t care that much about calories. It’s about eating the right amount of protein, fat and carbs. I focus on eating every three hours. Alex ate five meals a day. It worked really well – if he’d eaten three meals a day he would have lost weight”.
The programme Lygdbäck created broke down into three phases. Beginning with the “build up/bulk up” phase, Skarsgård ate a calorie surplus and focused all training on building muscle mass. “The build-up phase was a long one”, reflects Lygdbäck. Unsurprising, really, given the volume of muscle the pair needed to create.
This was followed by the “diet phase”. “Here, you try to maintain as much muscle mass as possible but lose all the body fat. We only did three weeks of this because he didn’t need to cut that much – he doesn’t gain much body fat naturally”.
The final piece is “maintenance”, something Lygdbäck describes as “absolutely the hardest phase”. “You’re already there – you have low body fat and high muscle mass and you have to maintain that while filming and doing all this crazy stuff all day”.
Fancy the challenge yourself? Don’t make it too hard, advises Lygdbäck. “I don’t advise food restrictions. Three out of twenty meals make sure you eat whatever you want. Don’t work out seven days a week – five might be the sweet spot. Find something you love to do, something your body needs, something you want to master and get better that. Try to think more holistically about it”.
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