When I first met Magnus Lygdbäck at the 2022 Biohacking Conference in Los Angeles, California, I got to test out a Magnus Method workout firsthand. It put me through my paces. Lygdbäck showed me a creative combination of functional bodyweight movements that in my 10-plus years as a certified trainer I’d never seen before. I walked away with not only a good sweat, but a better sense of how my body functioned in space.
A scroll through his Instagram will yield him darting through the streets of LA—glass of Unsweet wine in tote, chowing down on a Mcdonald’s burger and fries while Alexander Skarsgård looks on desperately, and a healthy smattering of the chiseled bodies he’s helped to shape—including greats like Skarsgård, James McAvoy, Ben Affleck, Mark Ruffalo, Alicia Vikander, and Gal Gadot.
Of course, that’s when he’s not on the sets of Tomb Raider, Wonder Woman, or The Northman giving his talent form corrections in between takes, and watching as they down every last bite of his chef-curated nutrient-dense lunches.
We chat with Lygdbäck about what went into creating the Magnus Method, which of his clients are the most motivated, why he doesn’t believe in active rest days, working out past the age of 40, his Jeni’s ice cream obsession, and why he gets his blood checked regularly.
The Edge: Tell me more about the Magnus Method?
Lygdbäck: I’ve been doing this for over 22 years, and the Magnus Method is the result. The vague way of explaining it: it’s a balance of training, nutrition, and lifestyle. The specific blend depends on the client’s role.
I think: what does an actor like Alexander Skarsgård need on set? He needs to look a certain way, so that plays a part in it. Did his character grow up poor or rich, unwell or healthy—our training strategy has to support those details to make it realistic. For some characters, we might want to work a little longer on a certain body part. For most guys, that’s an over-dimensioned chest.
You’ve trained everyone from Ben Affleck, Alexander Skarsgård, Gal Gadot, Alicia Vikander, and more. What goes into a superhero training program?
Each client is different, but there are a few things that never change. The first couple of weeks or months, it’s about assessing how someone moves. I focus on building a strong foundation first because otherwise you could get injured down the road.
Every program typically follows a building phase where we focus on gaining strength, followed by a cutting phase focused on leaning out before getting on screen. Either way, we’re looking at a three to four-day split, targeting different muscle groups on different days.
I’m very specific about the order in which I do those days. I always start or finish the week with legs. I like to separate chest and back days, and I always do an arms day after chest and back. The arms are a weaker muscle, if you do them first, you won’t be able to get the most out of your chest and back later.
Each superhero role is different. What’s the most specific training you needed to do for a client’s role?
Every single project I’ve had has involved something really specific and crazy. Everything from climbing walls to training MMA. When I worked with James Mcavoy for Glass, we worked on building wide traps, and practicing how to pop out his back on-screen. Then we had more technical training on how to move like a boxer. And that’s on top of regular training. When it’s all put together, it’s a lot. It comes down to seven days a week of training.
On-screen, it’s about the way a character moves not just how they look, how do you approach that side of the training?
Every character needs to move a certain way, that’s where the coaching on set comes in. I’m standing next to the director and the producers, and I’m trying to guide my actor to look their best. Pull your shoulders out to give that shredded look in the back, pop the rhomboids out a bit—you know, that kind of thing. I’m also coordinating the menus and making sure the food comes out at the right time.
Ben Affleck is 50. Aleksander is 46. What’s the most effective way for men over 40 to lose body fat?
When you’re prepping for a movie, it’s a short time and you tend to overwork the body. In real life, you can do the same type of programming but with balance in mind. Make it your main goal to stay flexible and mobile, everything else is a bonus.
When we talk about diet, it’s important to remember that a diet is a strategy. You have to figure out what works for you. My philosophy is 17 out of 20 meals should be on point, three out of 20 meals you can eat whatever you want. Let yourself have that burger.
For your plates, protein is key. Aim for two fistfuls of protein, one fistful of carbs, fats, or a combo, and two fistfuls of veggies.
To lose weight, feel free to lower your fats or carbs, but don’t mess with the protein. Protein can convert in the body to become glucose for energy, but carbs and fats can’t convert to protein which is essential for maintaining muscle mass.
What about sustainability and longevity?
Stretching, warming up, mobility, it all becomes more important as you age. Preparing your shoulders and hips before exercise is essential to stay injury free.
In general, you need more recovery. I tell my clients, actually take the recovery. Don’t have an active recovery day—skip the “recovery” hike or jog—lay on the couch. [Laughs] I’m serious, just lie on the couch and do nothing. We tend to be too extreme. We either do nothing or we do everything. Balance is key. Listen to your body, and take the day off.
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Money can’t buy motivation. Have you ever worked with a client who wasn’t motivated and what do you do to keep them consistent?
Of course, no one is motivated all the time. If you rely on motivation you’ve failed before you started. Motivation comes and goes. It comes when you buy new training gear, or when you get a compliment. You know the day will come when you’re not motivated.
The most important thing is to have discipline. When you have discipline, you show up. I need to motivate my clients every once in a while, and when I do it’s all about reading who you have in front of you. But, long term it comes from within.
Which of the celebs you work with are the most motivated?
Simple. When you look at the clients I have, the ones that look the best and have the biggest transformations are the ones who are the most motivated.
“As soon as you have the mindset of maintaining, you’re fucked. I’m trying to get better, I’m trying to improve.”
What are your fitness goals as you age?
My fitness goal is to get better. I don’t try to maintain. As soon as you have the mindset of maintaining, you’re fucked. I’m trying to get better, I’m trying to improve.
I like to set my goals around three things. What I like to do, what I need to do, and what I want to get better at or master. For me, I want to get better at strength training, I need to do more meditation and pilates, and I want to master Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
There’s always something to learn. I think we have a problem when we think we know it all because we don’t. I’m not the best at anything, so I’m always happy to go learn something new.
How much is intuition a part of your training?
At my age, it’s a lot of intuition. There’s always a plan, and you want to stick to the plan, but there needs to be balance, too. Listen to your body and stay true to yourself. Sometimes that means pulling back, but every once in a while, you just need to conk your inner bitch and get to it [laughs].
How are you tracking your progress?
I use nothing. I’ve checked my blood sugar with the Levels patch and I’ve educated myself on my body. It’s a good check-in, but at the end of the day, when I wake up I don’t want to overanalyze. I’m in tune with my body. I know when I feel good about myself, I don’t need a device to tell me. I love that it can hold people accountable, but I know I’ll show up and do the work anyways, tracker or not.
What else are you doing to stay on top of your health as you age?
I allow myself to recover more. I drink less and less alcohol. I also get my blood checked regularly. There are a lot of things to look at, but hormones are one of the most important.
What are the go-to recovery techniques you use to keep your body running optimally?
I’m a big fan of the sauna and stretching. I make sure to get a massage on a regular basis and keep my vitamins and minerals in check. I should say I take cold showers, but I don’t. I’d rather die a little younger [laughs]. Sometimes you gotta live life the way you want to. We often talk about living the longest life, but I’m really focused on living my best life. It’s great to work towards longevity, but there needs to be some room to live life as you want to, too.
Finding My Edge: The One Thing…
What’s the one thing you wish you knew about staying healthy and fit in your 30s?
I wish I knew it was going to get harder, that I would be slower and need more time to recover. It doesn’t mean I can’t keep fighting to become better, it just takes longer, and that’s okay.
What’s the one thing you always have to do when working out?
Wear short shorts. I hate long shorts.
What’s the one thing you tell yourself on a day you’re not motivated to work out?
It’s okay not to be motivated. I don’t have to be motivated as long as I show up.
What’s the one thing you always have in your fridge?
Cold brew coffee and Unsweet wine. I’m the biggest coffee drinker. I make my own cold brew with beans from Hawaii, and I add macadamia. I also invested in Son of Barista, roasted in Italy. It’s single origin, organic, and delicious. That’s what I’ll have if I’m feeling espresso.
What’s the one thing you have every day?
I don’t think it’s good to eat the same thing every day. I pride myself on eating a variety of foods. But I always eat vegetables every day.
What’s your one unhealthiest habit?
Ice cream and chips late at night. Jeni’s ice cream is by far the best. There’s nothing better than mixing their peanut butter chocolate flakes and their almond butter brittle flavors.
What’s one exercise you’d be happy to never do again?