Actors make playing superheroes like Wonder Woman or Batman look so easy, don’t they? What you may not know is that they have their own secret weapons: super trainers like Magnus Lygdback! Magnus is a world-renowned fitness expert who trained Ben Affleck for Justice League and Gal Gadot for the upcoming Wonder Woman 1984. We recently caught up with him (well, he slowed down for us!) to chat about the heavy lifting required to shape a superhero—and what fans prepping for a 24-hour marathon in the DC FanDome can do to ensure they cross the finish line.
Let’s talk about the idea of shaping a superhero from your expert perspective. What goes into trying to create the superhero physique that we get to see on the big and small screens?
Well, I get excited about all this. I love doing this part and there are always so many things we could do, so I come to it with a ton of ideas when it comes to building a superhero. First for me, it’s all about the character. I always come back to that. You need to understand who you’re building, and you need to stay true to the character. Who is this person? Where did she come from, or he? And how do they carry themselves and how do they move? What do they express and how do they fight? Everything is important, so you want to build that into your character. It’s not only shaping the body or prepping the body, strengthening and conditioning, it’s also movements that need to be integrated, so that’s very important.
So, someone like Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman will have a very different kind of physique from a Superman or a Batman or the Flash. Does that mean you must also approach Wonder Woman differently from how you would approach another female superhero?
Absolutely. I do my homework and then it’s a collaboration with the director and the actress on what you want this character to look like based on who she is.
How much conversation do you have with the actor or the actress about what they feel capable of doing physically?
A lot. Because I know what’s realistic. I know how far we can take them. They don’t know that, because most of the time they’ve never done anything like that before, so it’s up to me to kind of translate or to explain what’s possible and what’s not possible, and also show them the progress and show them what we’re heading towards. And sometimes it can be discouraging for someone to put on muscle mass, if they have never done that before, and might take some time to get used to. And sometimes it’s the opposite. So, my job is to make sure that your actor or actress is on board. They need to understand the “why” and they need to know it’s a team effort, because otherwise you’ll never get there.
Do you find it’s easier to work with someone who’s never trained like this before, or with someone who has been through it before?
Ha! That is a very good question.
Because then they already know how hard it is?
(Laughs) They do, but… Well, I don’t have a simple answer to that question. I love doing it for the first time with someone, because the whole world gets to see it, but if you do it back-to-back over three years, four years, two or three movies, it’s going to be tough.
Is there any one approach or specific type of exercise that you find, across the board, is something you use with everyone or that works for most people trying to achieve the kind of results you’re looking to get with these characters?
Yes. It’s really important to see how someone moves in the beginning, and you need to correct all issues, and then you need to build a strong foundation. So, fundamental strength exercises and weightlifting is something I always do. And then there’s also some movement training in there as well. But, you know, lifting weights, strength training. Simple stuff.
Strength training versus cardio?
You never start with cardio. Cardio is something you might do to help someone get toned, but cardio can be contradictory to building a physique. We work so hard and you want to use a hundred percent of your energy every day to build muscle mass and tone your body. I’d rather adjust nutrition, so you lose body fat.
So that speaks to the other side of the equation, which is diet and nutrition.
Well, it’s not even 50/50 training/nutrition, it’s 100%/100%. You need to get on top of both, there’s no other way. So yeah, nutrition is a big factor in losing body fat and to be able to put in even more hard work in the gym.
Do you have a daily sort of recommendation for someone who wants to build a body like this? A generalized way that someone is going to have you eat on any given day?
Yes. I try to eat five meals a day, which means every three or four hours, to keep your blood sugar and insulin stable. Eat some slow carbs, fats and protein.
What are slow carbs?
A slow carb is what we call a complex carb, something that your body can draw energy from for a long time, so it doesn’t affect your insulin and blood sugar. Sweet potatoes are really good, rice, brown rice, quinoa, barley, farrow, Wasa crisps. Overall, try to eat a protein-based breakfast. Make sure not to eat or drink anything sugary or that will affect your insulin and blood sugar in the morning. So no juice in the morning, please. Egg in any form is an excellent choice. And then I eat most of my carbs and my fat with lunch and dinner, and my two snacks that I eat during the day consist mostly of protein. Every meal should consist of protein and you should eat a lot of protein in the morning, not to go into a catabolic state. For the average female, you should try to get about 30 grams of protein in the morning.
On your website there are some great quotes. One is, “Keep going because you did not come this far to come this far.” Is that something that you use to inspire someone when they hit a plateau?
Of course. You know, that’s life. That’s what we’re all going through. We do need days, but we need someone to pick us up, and that’s my job. And especially when you do a movie, I always remind them that this is going to be forever. Your grandkids are going to watch this. I know it’s hard right now, but it’s the hard days… That’s when you make the difference. When you show up even though you don’t want to, that is when you make the difference.
Do actors ever talk to you about how much the change in their physique and in their attitude from the workouts with you changes their approach to the character?
One hundred percent. That is why when we film I always want to work with them in the morning, because it sets a physical and a mental standard that they will take with them on the set. If the first thing you do in the morning is get in the gym, you put in the work, then you go into makeup and then you show up, and then you’re Wonder Woman or whoever you are. It sets a physical and a mental standard. It’s like putting a superhero suit on.
Which they are about to do!
Exactly. (Laughs) It is very important, instead of just waking up and going into makeup being half-tired and then stepping onto set. Yeah, the mental aspect and the physical aspect are equally important.
I know you’ve worked to shape a number of DC Super Heroes, but do you have a favorite—character, that is, not actor?
I would say Wonder Woman is the most important superhero in the DC world because as a young boy I had many superheroes to look at, and having a daughter now, well, it’s just changed everything for the better. Instead of young girls just dressing up as princesses during Halloween, they can be Wonder Woman.
So, one last thing—looking ahead to the DC FanDome, if somebody were to come to you and say, “I’ve got to be awake for 24 hours. I’m going to have this great time. I want to get through it, I want to survive and enjoy all of it. What do I do to maximize my experience?” Is there anything that you could recommend to fans other than, you know, copious amounts of caffeine?
The longer you can prepare, the better. With a three-day prep, we clean out sugar and fast carbs from our system, and if you can feed your body with slow, solid nutrition, that’s going to keep you awake for a long time, and it’s going to keep you focused for a longer time. I can also recommend people use some MCT oil to feed the brain. Prepare, get your body ready, and then once the event starts, you can enjoy yourself with a couple of sugary drinks.
Head into the DC FanDome’s Hall of Heroes on August 22nd to see and hear more about what it takes to be a DC Super Hero from the stars themselves. And be sure to check out the InsiderVerse to meet more artisans like Magnus Lygdback (www.magnusmethod.com) who help transform actors like Gal Gadot and Ben Affleck into your favorite characters for the screen—including award-winning costume designer Lindy Hemming, who designed the Golden Armor for the upcoming feature Wonder Woman 1984!