Disclaimer: Alexander Skarsgård does’t actually wear a loincloth in Legend of Tarzan, opting instead for a kind of Victorian pedal pusher. Very Pitti Uomo. He does, however, share the classic Tarzan’s aversion to shirts. Unsurprising, considering the physique they’d cover up.

Skarsgård took eight months to build Tarzan’s lean, muscular body, calling on friend and trainer Magnus Lygdbäck – the man responsible for whipping Avicii and Harry Styles into rock star shape. Then he had to maintain it on set. But that means unlike big screen bodies built with short-term training, this is one you can actually achieve. And hold onto.

“Genetics has an effect on every individual’s ability to burn fat and build muscle, but everyone can get a similar look to Skarsgård with the right type of exercises and diet,” says Lygdbäck. “You just need to have a build up cycle where you lift heavy and eat plenty, followed by an intense training cycle with a strict diet.” Not just bananas.

Alexander Skarsgård’s Tarzan Training Regime

Skarsgård trained in two phases – big eating and big lifting to put on bulk, then a cut that tapered his food and training, where he shifted from moving weight to moving his body. The result? Muscle where it mattered with no fat covering it up.

But when you’re that training hard, rest is just as important as the time you spend shifting tin. Skarsgård worked a split routine that hit different body parts on different days, to give his muscles a chance to recover – and grow – before he subjected them to more punishment.

On two random days a week, Lygdbäck put him through a prime movements workout, designed to get his body moving like a gorilla. Even if you’re not playing one, apeing their movements gets your body working in new ways. That means more flexibility, more fat burn, and the kind of functional strength that translates to the real world – not just the squat rack.

Flip a coin at the start of each workout. If it comes up heads, spend the first 10 minutes moving around on all fours, bunny hops, pull-ups swinging from monkey bars and climbing ropes. For Tarzan-level muscle, it’s time to start monkeying around.

Day 1: Monday – Legs

Not only will neglecting your lower body make you look like a ‘Don’t Skip leg Day’ meme, it means you’re more susceptible to injury. Leg-focused exercises like deadlifts and squats are also two of the most effective moves for building total-body muscle.

Perform all sets of each exercise with 60 seconds rest, then move onto the next exercise.

Squats Pyramid

12, 8, 6, 10 Reps
Set up in a squat rack, with the weight across your shoulders. Squat down, keeping your back straight, until your thighs are parallel with the floor. Drive back up through your heels and repeat.

Perform one set of 12 reps, rest for 60 seconds, then go again for a set of eight, six and finally 10 reps.

Deadlifts

4 x 10 Reps
Stand with a barbell on the floor, in front of your shins. Crouch down and grab the bar with both hands, keeping your weight on your heels. Drive up to standing, pause, then lower.

Leg Press

3 x 12 Reps
Sit in a leg press machine with your feet shoulder-width apart on the foot pad. Drive through your heels to straighten your legs, pause, then slowly lower.

Skate Jumps

3 x 30 Reps
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Push off your right foot and jump as far as possible to your left. Pause, then reverse the movement, jumping off your left foot to land on your right. That’s one rep.

Frog Jumps

3 x 10 Reps
With your legs wider than shoulder-width apart, squat down until your palms touch the floor. Jump as high as possible, then land in a squat and repeat.

Day 2: Tuesday – Chest & Shoulders

If your normal rep range is ‘until I’m tired’, it’s time to find some structure. Skarsgård’s pyramid sets quickly increase muscle strength and mass by ensuring you work to failure every time. And the harder your muscles work, the more they grow.

Perform all sets of each exercise with 60 seconds rest, then move onto the next exercise.

Bench Press Pyramid

12, 8, 6, 10 Reps
Lie down on the bench press and grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip. Lower it, squeezing your shoulder blades together, until the bar brushes your nipples.

Drive it up using your chest – make sure you don’t roll your shoulders forward. Pause, then repeat.

Incline Dumbbell Press

4 x 10 Reps
Lie on a bench set to a 30-degree angle. Hold two heavy dumbbells in front of your shoulders, palms facing your toes. Drive the weights up, pause, then slowly lower.

Cable Flyes

3 x 10 Reps
Stand with your back to the cable machine, the pulleys at head height and holding both handles with your arms outstretched. The weight should be slightly lifted.

Keeping your arms straight – and without lifting your shoulders – bring your hands together. Pause, then slowly return to the start position.

Arnold Press

3 x 10 Reps
Sit on a bench with the backrest vertical. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, at your shoulders, palms facing backward. Drive the weight over your head and rotate your hands, so when you finish the point forward. Pause, then reverse the movement.

Burpees

3 x Max Reps
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Squat down then kick your legs back into a press-up position.

Jump your feet forward into a squat, jump as high as possible, then land and sink straight back into a squat. Repeat until you want to throw up.

Day 3: Thursday – Back & Shoulders

Gym rats love training their chest. But apes have huge backs to pull them through trees. “We wanted to create a physicality close to his primate family, so there was a concentration on sculpting a broad back, huge traps, with less focus on the chest.” Sorry, bro.

Perform all sets of each exercise with 60 seconds rest, then move onto the next exercise.

Chin-Ups

4 x Max Reps
Grab a pull-up bar with your palms facing backwards. From a dead hang, lift your body so your chin clears the bar. Pause, and slowly lower yourself. Feel free to let out a monkey whoop.

Seated Row

4 x 10 Reps
Sit at a cable machine with the handles in front of you, arms straight. If it helps, imagine the cable’s a vine.

Pull the weight back, keeping your shoulders down and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Pause and return.

Standing Dumbbell Row

3 x 10 Reps each side
Grab two dumbbells and bend forward, so your torso is parallel to the floor and the weights hang in front of you. Row the right weight up until the dumbbell hits your abs. Lower and repeat with the other arm.

Wood Chop

4 x 10 Reps each side
Grab a weight plate and hold it in front of you. With straight arms, lift it to the right, above your head.

Slowly lower across your body, finishing with the weight outside your left ankle. Pause and return.

Dumbbell Lateral Raise

4 x 15 Reps
Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them at your sides. With straight arms, lift the weights until they’re at shoulder height, then return.

Day 4: Saturday – Arms

This combination workout produces the even muscle build of free weights as you work each arm separately, along with the muscle isolation of the cable machine to really pinpoint the areas you want to pop. Good for swinging through trees, or just filling out your tees.

Perform all sets of each exercise with 60 seconds rest, then move onto the next exercise.

Alternating Bicep Curls

4 x 8 Reps each side
Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them at your side. Curl the right weight up to your shoulder, keeping your elbow still.

Pause, squeeze your bicep, let out a yodel, then return. Repeat with the left arm.

EZ Bar Curl

4 x 10 Reps
Grab an EZ bar – that’s the one that looks like someone bent it in a fit of ‘roid rage – and let it hang in front of you. Curl the weight up to your chest, pause, then slowly return.

Triceps French Press

4 x 10 Reps
Keep hold of the bar and raise it above your head, arms straight. Slowly lower it behind you, until your forearms are parallel with the floor, then squeeze your triceps to return to the start position.

Overhead Cable Extension

4 x 10 Reps
Stand with your back to a cable machine, with a rope attached to the top pulley setting. Start with it held behind your head, arms bent, then pull the weight forwards in front of your face. Try not to hit yourself on the way past.

Cable Biceps Curl & Triceps Push Down Superset

3 x 10 reps
Start with the biceps curl. In one side of a cable machine, attach a straight bar to the lowest pulley and curl the weight to your shoulders. Without rest, switch to the other side of the cable and attach a rope handle to the top pulley. Grab it with both hands in front of your face and keep your elbows still as you pull it down in front of your body, using your triceps.

Do 10 reps, rest, then repeat both moves.

The Tarzan Fat-Burning Diet

When he was bulking, the naturally lean Skarsgård put away around 8,000 calories a day, shovelling down steak and potatoes. When it came to burn the blubber off, things got tougher. He still needed calories to fuel his workout, but from lean proteins, not carbs, so they weren’t laid down over the six-pack he’d just built. That meant lots of small, meat- and veg-heavy meals, so he had enough energy to actually work.

Counterintuitively for a jungle man, Skarsgård’s leaning down diet is full of fish. “It’s easy for the body to digest, and fish and seafood contains the type of good fats that actually help you burn fat,” says Lygdbäck. Don’t like fish? Replace with lean meat such as chicken breast and take fish oil supplements for a similar effect.

  • Breakfast: Chive omelette with avocado and sunflower seeds.
  • Morning Snack: Chilli, lime and ginger prawn kebabs with shredded mange tout and sesame seed salad.
  • Lunch: Walnut stuffed salmon with tahini dressing, lemon quinoa, roasted broccoli and sautéed kale.
  • Afternoon Supper: Tuna sashimi, seaweed and pickled ginger salad with wasabi and soy.
  • Evening Supper: Pan fried fillet of sea bass, coconut rice, okra, rainbow chard and lentil dahl.