I Tried Alexander Skarsgård's Viking Workout For The Northman And Survived (Barely)

The new Focus Features film "The Northman," starring Alexander Skarsgård as the titular unstoppable Norse warrior, will hit theaters on April 22, 2022, and I think it's fair to say that he looks the part. Look at that picture of him. Gaze upon it, but maybe wear sunglasses, as your eyes may burn up from the level of fitness. Skarsgård was already in shape before the film, but to bulk up and become a Viking berserker ready to rain destruction upon his enemies, he had to train. 

Swedish trainer and nutrition expert Magnus Lygdbäck worked with Skarsgård for months, and was on set with him at all times to make sure he was in fighting shape for "The Northman." To celebrate the upcoming release of the film, I too was given a chance to train like a Viking — and while my shoulders are never going to look like his, I got a little taste of what Skarsgård went through to turn himself into a legend. 

The workout that Lygdbäck took the group through on the rooftop of the 1Hotel in West Hollywood was the same type he had done with Skarsgård before every day of shooting. Though we were not made to swing an ax on set for 12 hours after this workout like he did, Lygdbäck explained that it was important for the actor to warm up his shoulders, his hips, and his legs so he wouldn't be injured on set. 

So, can you do this? Could I? Am I a Viking now? Between this and all the hours I've put into "Assassin's Creed: Valhalla," perhaps. Here's what we did.

Becoming the bear

As a marathon runner and a fitness buff, I consider myself pretty okay in terms of workouts, but this one creeps up on you like a band of Vikings doing a night raid. "The Northman" workout warm-up started with two rounds of 30 second bear crawls, which had us all on our feet and hands, walking around the terrace. 

Skarsgård's character, Amleth, has the spirits of both a bear and a wolf within him, and Lygdbäck told us that he used the attributes of the animals as part of the training. It might not seem like a lot, but if you try it, you'll realize how into it you can get. I crawled like a bear up and down the stairs. One person in the workout group actually growled. (There is a moment in the film that this sort of echoes — you'll know it when you see it.) 

One thing Lygdbäck told us was not to cheat this, and to try to move rather quickly. It's one thing to crawl around, but if you're trying to get somewhere, you'll be surprised how quickly your arms get tired. 

After the ursine warm-up, we got into the twofold exercises. The first part was a banded side step with toe touches for 30 seconds. These aren't the little stretchy bands you get on the Wish app, though. These things were canvas, thick, and had very little give. I'd looked at the bands before we started and thought, "Cool, I do band workouts all the time." Nope, not like this! 

You put the band around your ankles, keeping your feet shoulder width apart, and side step, touching the other toe to the ground. You have to keep the band stretched at all times, with your toes facing forward to work that butt. You will get tired very quickly. 

You think you're in shape, and then the soreness sets in

The second part (and you do these two for 30 seconds each, twice through) was a goblet squat, which involves a kettlebell. You hold it between your hands (like a giant goblet) with your elbows in, and do squats with your back straight and your toes forward. You see, you think when you look at the little sign and see four exercises that it's all going to be fine, and then you do this. Lygdbäck wanted us to do the moves quickly as well, so there was no place to rest. The sign ... it looked so small! So ... oof ... small!

Before we move on, I do want to mention this, because it was a surprise to me. Lygdbäck told me afterward that he really trains people in the gym only for an hour at a time. "If it doesn't happen in the first hour, it's not going to happen," he said. I thought that might help you get through the rest of this workout. Moving on. 

The next step is done with a partner. We had long, skinny workout bands for this, though I decided to pick up the medium band instead of the light one, because Viking! One person holds the band on one side with both hands at chest level, while the other pulls them out and up. My legs may be strong, but my arms are decidedly not. I did it though, for 30 seconds. Tomorrow, I will need someone to lift my drinks to my mouth. Then you switch off, then do it again. Shockingly, the person just standing there holding the band is actually getting a full body workout simply by keeping it steady. It was harder than pulling the band! 

Are you sore yet?

The battle raged on! Next we did lateral raises with that same long band. You put one end under your feet, and grab each side with a hand. Then you pull up and out. While the previous exercise was like a standing rowing machine, this one felt like dragging up a stick that is stuck in deep mud. I could practically feel my shoulders getting all bear-like. This one is done for 30 seconds, twice through, alternating with skaters. You stand on one foot (knee bent) with the other leg behind you like a speed skater. Then you alternate, and Lygdbäck had us going fast! Much faster than I've ever done them, but I do have to say, that helps your balance. 

Finally we did a rolling knee tuck. Get on a mat or a carpet and lay flat. Now lift your legs off the ground a few inches, and raise your shoulders as well, with your hands behind your head. Your legs kick in and out as you slowly turn your body from side to side. You don't let your elbows touch the ground, and you don't let your legs or shoulders touch the ground either. I can do crunches for days, and this was hard! Do this exercise for 30 seconds, twice through, alternating with the next exercise, which is a rotating kickthrough. 

To start the kickthrough, you get into position like you're going to do a pushup, with your arms directly under your shoulders. (Lygdbäck was very clear about not putting them too far forward.) Then you kick one leg completely under your body, across to the other side, not touching the ground with your toes. Then do the other side. 30 seconds, twice through. 

My arms don't look like Skarsgård's, but they do feel stronger

That is it! See? That little sign next to Lygdbäck doesn't look like much, but once you try it, you'll definitely feel the intensity. I could absolutely feel the muscles he was targeting here. And I need to mention this again: This was just the warm-up before 12 hour shoots! 

After watching the film, I am in complete awe. There are fighting scenes in here that are non-stop berserker battles, which you can see moments of in the trailer. Skarsgård is swinging swords and axes. There are knife fights, horseback riding, and rowing. The monster trapezius muscles on this man make so much more sense to me now. 

The thing is, I feel good. I mean, I'm sore, but I wasn't gassed or broken down. There was never a time during this workout when I was out of breath. While I might need to train my cats to bring me things for the next few days (hey, the Norse Goddess Freya had a chariot pulled by cats), I feel like I got through it pretty well! Albeit without the 12 hours of ax-swinging afterwards.

Lygdbäck (who has trained Gal Gadot, Alicia Vikander, and Ben Affleck for roles) has a workout app with a challenge based on "The Northman." It's also got nutrition tips. I'm going to be responsible here and tell you, my fellow Vikings, to go have a chat with your doctor before you start a new workout. Personally, I think I'm going to do it. Hey, I've already got the Viking braids.