Magnus Lygdbäck’s fascination with health and fitness begun at an early age. Hailing from the Nordic country of Sweden, the 40-year-old, now-celebrity trainer recalls a childhood spent carving ice at the hockey ring, racking up laps in the swimming pool and even trying his hand at mixed martial arts. When the opportunity arose, however, to turn his life-long passion into a career, the would-be world-class trainer jumped.
“I think it all started when I began going to the gym with my father when I was four years old,” Lygdbäck tells ICON. “Growing up, I was very active and did a lot of different sports. I then started working with a lot of athletes and eventually I started training more and more artists and actors.”
That was 20 years ago. Nowadays, Lygdbäck is quite easily known as a trainer to the stars. Where personal trainers usually seek a client list of professional athletes and bodybuilders, Lygdbäck was in a position to work with A-list stars, namely the likes of Harry Styles and Katy Perry. With a deep knowledge in adaptable training techniques and schedules, the certified life coach expanded his ever-growing client base with the ‘Magnus Method’, a namesake training program designed to assist his clients with structure and balance both inside and outside the gym.
“I might see my clients at the gym for one hour per day. I have no control – they have no control – over what is going on in the remaining 23 hours. That’s when I realised I need to work with so much more than just the training,” he explained, speaking of the highly successful Magnus Method. “It’s evolved a lot, especially in the last 10 years. I moved to the US full-time nine years ago and that really gave me the ability to work on bigger scale projects and be much more hands on and step into someone’s life.”
The last decade has seen the trainer expand his repertoire to work on major Hollywood productions. The move across the Atlantic meant Lygdbäck could work side-by-side with James McAvoy moulding those beastly shoulders for his film Glass. He also worked on Alexander Skarsgård’s refined pectorals and eight-pack abs in Tarzan and Alicia Vikander’s toned arms in Tomb Raider. Now, his lauded body sculpting practises will be realised on leading woman Gal Gadot as she takes to the big screen in Wonder Woman 1984, released into cinemas in January 2021. Having just touched down in Vancouver for the next instalment of Vikings, ICON spoke to Magnus Lygdbäck.
ICON: You once said, “The work I do isn’t about building a gym body, it’s about building a character.” Where do you draw your inspiration for these character’s from? Is it the director’s vision or is it yours?
Magnus Lygdbäck: “It’s different from project to project but most of the time the director and the actor have an idea on how they want to shape or build the character. Then it’s up to me to work with them and to explore that and see if it’s possible. Sometimes people want to build things that are not doable in the time frame that we have. Sometimes they’re asking for too much or they might not have thought about different [aspects] that might be hard to do in a short amount of time. It’s working with the directors and actors to give them what they need, it’s never about what I want or need. And I always say I can only lead the way and it’s up to them to walk the path.”
ICON: Where do you start? What is the first thing you look at?
ML: “It always starts with a physical screening. You need to figure out where the person you’re working with stands physically. This involves assessing their mobility and looking at how they look when lifting. This will tell you what you need to work on. You need to build a strong foundation because these projects are so extreme and you need to fit so much into such a short time frame. It’s crucial you build a strong foundation because if they get injured a couple weeks or months into filming, that would be disaster – that could jeopardise the whole movie. I always schedule seven days a week with them in the gym and I follow them around the world wherever they are in order to prepare them.”
ICON: How long was the training process on Wonder Woman 1984?
ML: “Before we started filming, we had about four or five months – I would say that’s the general time frame on most movies. You wish for six months, normally you get about three months. Right now, I’m in Vancouver doing my second film with Alex Skarsgärd prepping for a big Vikings movie and we have two months, which is nuts. With James McAvoy, we had about 12 weeks which is also very short. You just never know.”
ICON: What does a typical day look for these actors?
ML: “Everybody thinks these actors have a lot of free time to prepare for something. They don’t. They’re going from project to project. Gal had a lot of things she was working on and I had to adapt to her schedule. Sometimes there were early mornings, sometimes it was late nights. For example, with James McAvoy I prepped him for Glass and I had to be with him through the entire filming of [his prior movie] X-Men to prepare him for the next role. Actors are super busy and you just have to go with them and adapt and get the workouts in whenever you can. Wherever we go, we need a hotel that has the best gym. If it doesn’t have a fully equipped gym, then we need to find a gym close by and we need to work the nutrition situation out. I need to order food from the hotel ahead of our stay and make sure that there’s a chef that knows what to cook. So, wherever these actors are going it’s up to me to be one step ahead and plan.”
ICON: Diet is always a huge factor. What is being eaten and avoided?
ML: “Part of my method involves all of my actors eating every three hours and eliminating sugar as much as possible. They need to make sure 17 out of 20 meals are on point. Three out of those 20 are where they get to enjoy life. I do think it’s important to enjoy food as well, and I don’t like when people are too strict – that’s how I live myself. I have done every single diet under the sun and when you’re on a big role, you need to be super strict. For example, when Alicia Vikander prepped for Tomb Raider, she was travelling in the jungle for a couple of weeks while filming in South America. I put her on a keto diet because it was so much easier to control her diet. I might start someone on a specific diet and then if I feel like they’re not responding the way they should, I’ll switch.
ICON: How does training a man and woman differ? What do you have to keep in mind?
ML: “If someone’s being hard on themselves and working hard, then I shouldn’t be the one screaming at them trying to get that extra rep because I know that they will already do that to themselves. It’s more about the person you have in front of you – and the brain you have in front of you – more so than the gender. You can do the same type of training with both men and women; both sexes do a bit of strength training and high intensity cardio.”
ICON: What was Gal like in the training mode?
ML: “All I can say is that she’s an inspiration. She’s a mother, she’s the queen of Israel, she’s so famous over there, she’s the Wonder Woman of the whole world. People don’t understand how big that is. We men have so many different superheroes, but Gal put the female superhero on the map for the modern generation, which is huge. It’s just an inspiration to see her in action. I’m blessed and I’m very happy that I got to be a part of her project.”
ICON: What preparation must be done for shoot days?
ML: “The difference with a movie is that you need to be in shape many days prior to the first day of shooting. I try not to do too much on shoot days. Some people like to drink less water, eat more salt and manipulate the body [but] I try not to because there are side effects that happen later. Instead, I get my actors in really good shape and keep them there. With that being said, however, there are things you can do. I want my actors to start the day with a workout because I think that sets a physical and mental standard that they carry with them throughout the day. They are superheroes walking around shirtless or walking around like they’re strong. I think it’s smart to do a workout in the morning, for that physical and mental feeling.”
ICON: Are you on set during production?
ML: “What I do is work with [stunt] teams. No one will know the actors body better than me. I know what injuries they have or what they can or cannot do so I do try to be with them when they do the stunt work and team up with the stunt team. We’re all working together. I don’t do the stunt work, but I do the coaching behind the camera. For example, if the way they are supposed to move is in an aggressive, beastly way, it’s easier for me to show the actor how to do that than the director.”
ICON: A novel question for you. Which universe is better, DC or Marvel?
ML: “Well, you’re talking to the guy that is in the DC world. Can I say this? Why do we always have to pick one side of the fence? Can’t we just all get along? I love Marvel, I really do, and the DC world holds such a special place in my heart. DC have done a tremendous job, I do think when you
look on paper, they have the strongest characters – Batman, Superman – but I like both.”
Wonder Woman 1984 arrives in cinemas in 2021.
Magnus Lygdbäck’s programs are available via the Playbook app on iTunes and Google Play. For more information, visit here.