Alexander Skarsgård’s casting in The Northman, based on a Norse saga, was determined long ago. According to Vanity Fair, the actor had wanted to make a film based on Icelandic myths since he was a youngster visiting his grandfather on a Swedish island and hearing stories about the previous inhabitants. But when the project became real, Skarsgård had to change his physique to suit the part. He is 6’4″ tall and 45 years old. Thankfully, Skarsgård is not a stranger to transforming his physique for a film, having cut down to play the main character in 2016’s The Legend of Tarzan. He had turned to the same trainer who shaped his Northman body: Magnus Lygdbäck from Sweden.
“I was really, really ecstatic when I got the call to work on the film,” says Lygdbäck. “I knew that this was going to be a huge movie because it is an accurate Viking film—you can make that argument—and I know Alex has been working on this movie for a long time.”
The physical preparation for The Northman—or, for that matter, any of his other beefed-up roles—begins at the most fundamental level, according to Lygbäck, who has also worked with Ben Affleck and Gal Godot. “It’s all about creating a character,” Lygdbäck added.
“We had to reach deep into Skarsgård’s psyche in order to portray Amleth,” Lygbäck said. “His spiritual animals in this film are a bear and a wolf. He’s a wolf-bear, so he needed to be able to move like a wolf while still looking like a bear.”
In terms of physical growth, it meant that Skarsgård’s goal was to make him more muscular and imposing. Anyone who has watched the film’s trailer will recall this particular scene; there’s one particular instance when Skarsgård prowls through the frame during a raid with his shoulders hunched and two weapons in his hands, almost seeming to be hunting his prey like one of his wild influences.
The bulk of the shoot, however, took place during the height of the Covid-19 epidemic, when gyms weren’t always accessible. Lygbäck and Skarsgård were somewhat restricted in what they could do because to the fact that most of the film was shot at this point. They converted an actor’s garage into a makeshift training center, which inspired Lygbäck to utilize more adaptable training equipment such as battle ropes (which he acknowledged aren’t usually in his repertoire), landmines, and other methods instead of traditional machines and really heavy weights. All in the interest of strengthening Skarsgård’s hips, shoulders, and core—all essential elements for swinging an axe.
For a sample of the exercises Lygdbäck created for Skarsgård to perform as Amleth, see the series below. Don’t miss The Northman when it comes to theaters on April 22.
Alexander Skarsgård’s Workout for The Northman Viking
EZ Bar Biceps Curl for 3 to 4 sets and 10 to 12 reps each
Battle Ropes for 3 to 6 sets of 30 secs up to 2 mins
Waves, Slams, Side-to-sides
Kettlebell Halo for 3 to 4 sets and 10 to 16 reps
Kettlebell Bulgarian Split Squat 3 to 4 sets and 8 to 10 reps
Landmine Rotation for 3 to 4 sets and 10 to 20 reps