How to Look Like Tarzan (By The Man Who Trained Him)
Mr Alexander Skarsgård as Tarzan in The Legend Of Tarzan, 2016. Photograph by Mr Jonathan Olley. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Mr Alexander Skårsgard’s personal trainer reveals how he got the actor into ape shape for his new Hollywood blockbuster. Here's what to eat and how to train.
Feral child raised to near super-human levels of masculinity takes on world in loincloth: a blockbuster plotline if we’ve ever heard one. But to Mr Magnus Lygdback, that was a job brief. As personal trainer to Mr Alexander Skarsgård for upcoming jungle romp The Legend of Tarzan, his was the task of building muscle worthy of one of the most famous torsos in cinema onto an actor equally famous for being lean of frame.
Unlike the film’s protagonist, the results speak for themselves. And when you see them, you’ll want to ape them. “I wanted to build a man who looked like he grew up fighting for his survival – but adapted to today's body ideals,” says Mr Lygdback. Mr Skarsgård’s physical transformation is all the more impressive when you consider that he had little in the way of muscle mass at the start of his training (so take hope, all ye hardgainers). “He’s now a more muscular but still panther-like Tarzan.”
No amount of chest beating is a substitute for hard work. So ignore the bros posturing in front of the gym mirror and follow Mr Lygdback’s mantra: mix it up and always focus on functional exercises.
Here’s how he got Mr Skarsgård looking the part:
Rope In More Muscle
Messrs Lygdback and Skarsgård broke up the workouts into body parts: legs for day one, chest on day two, back for day three, and then arms on the fourth.
Every session started with a “pyramid set” of a big move like a squat or bench press, starting with a lighter weight for more reps – let’s say 12 – then increasing the weight while decreasing the reps (12, 8, 6, 4 for instance) for a total of four sets. Finish each set with a quick burst of 10 reps with a light weight.
This was followed by multiple variant moves targeting the day’s body part for a few rounds of roughly 10 reps. To finish off, the actor would do 30 or so reps of something explosive like frog jumps – squatting low and leaping forward – or everyone’s least favourite exercise, burpees.
Into this mix went core sessions, during which Mr Skarsgård would perform a mixture of static moves like planks with rotational exercises like Russian twists. This was combined with movement sessions. You can’t be Tarzan if you move like a deskbound City boy, after all. So it’s important to mix in yoga and general monkeying around – specifically bodyweight exercises like bear crawls and hand walking – to keep your body supple.
Eat Like A Beast
Tarzan’s diet of bananas and coconuts won’t cut it, but Mr Lygdback believes that for a diet plan to be sustainable, it needs to be enjoyable – so no endless boiled chicken breasts washed down with protein shakes. Here’s what a typical day’s food looks like – you’ll notice there’s five meals, not three. “You can play around with the individual components,” says Mr Lygdback. “Just make sure you’re eating enough.”
Breakfast: chive omelette with avocado and sunflower seeds.
Mid-morning: chilli, lime and ginger prawn kebabs with shredded mangetout and sesame seed salad.
Lunch: walnut-stuffed salmon with tahini dressing, lemon quinoa, roasted broccoli and sautéed kale.
Late-afternoon: tuna sashimi, seaweed and pickled ginger salad with wasabi and soy.
Dinner: pan-fried fillet of sea bass, coconut rice, okra, rainbow chard and lentil dahl.
Me Tarzan, You Gain
Mr Lygdback recommends you frequently shake up your training, so feel free to adapt the workout plan and you’ll keep the gains coming. If you notice yourself plateauing, increase the calories in the meal plan or up the weight during the exercises. The golden rule couldn’t be more apt: it’s important to keep on climbing.