How Alicia Vikander got ripped for Tomb Raider

Academy Award-winning star Alicia Vikander has made quite a name for herself in the film world, going from Swedish indie sensation to one of Hollywood's hottest stars in just a few short years. Most recently, the new Lara Croft delivered memorable performances in Testament of Youth, Ex Machina, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Danish Girl, Jason Bourne, and The Light Between Oceans — just to name a few.

In none of those roles, however, would anyone say that the Swedish actress is particularly ripped — which makes sense, since none of Vikander's previous roles required much athleticism. In fact, the actress' period-piece-riddled career has almost entirely centered around playing characters which accentuate her more delicate, feminine qualities, whether as a Russian princess or attractive AI.

In the months leading up to her big debut as Lara Croft in the 2018 Tomb Raider movie, however, Vikander got positively jacked. How did the lithe actress behind the Kitty in 2012's Anna Karenina go from ballet dancing to raiding tombs? Let's find out.

Swan Lake

First and foremost, Vikander has an athletic history — albeit one that doesn't exactly include climbing cliff faces, avoiding deadly traps and ziplining down ropes with only a pickaxe.

Vikander started doing ballet at the age of four before enrolling at the Royal Swedish Ballet School. However, the intensity and perfectionism required to become a professional ballet dancer proved too much the for future star, who told Vanity Fair, "Being in ballet school and being in leotards in front of a mirror I don't know how many hours a day was quite tough." The high-pressure and perfectionist experience actually landed Vikander in therapy, which she hid from her parents.

Ultimately, ballet wasn't her thing, but years of training during her childhood undoubtedly led to her developing an intense work ethic and a flexible frame — though not a particularly ripped one. So what exactly did she do to pack on the muscle?

The Magnus Method

In order to get ripped like no Lara before, Vikander enlisted the help of celebrity trainer Magnus Lygdback — a world-renowned Swedish health and wellness expert who's trained the likes of Alexander Skarsgård, Britney Spears, Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Katy Perry, and Harry Styles, among others. He's also famous for having developed the "Magnus Method," an athlete-inspired training philosophy which approaches lifestyle fitness with "the same specific intensity and structure that an athlete would, whilst also maintaining a balanced and healthy life."

Lygdback indeed whipped Vikander into shape, helping her pack 16 pounds of muscle onto her slim 5-foot-5 frame, which he describes as nothing short of "freakish." "Angelina did a great job, but this is something completely different from the original movies," he told The Hollywood Reporter. "It's a modern Lara Croft, a strong, independent woman, and I think it's exactly what the world needs right now."

Switching it up

In order to pack on 16 pounds of pure muscle, Lygdback's workouts for Vikander primarily focused on strength training.

"I like to switch it up," Lygdback told PopSugar, "so we did everything from squatting heavy and doing deadlifts to pull-ups, pushups, training with machines, training with bodyweight, plyometrics, explosive training. We covered it all — everything from classic lifting and strength training to more functional stuff." No wonder Vikander was left looking like a real-life adventurer.

If you're looking to achieve similar results, Superhero Jacked suggests an afternoon weightlifting session which incorporates a "3 Round Superset" of both inclined dumbbell bench presses and dips. Follow that up with another three-round superset of front shoulder raises and pull-ups before tackling another three-round superset of dumbbell rows and pushups. Finally, wrap up the weight lifting with a three-round superset of front squats and box jumps. Do that, and you'll be looking cut in no time.

Three squares and two snacks

No would-be tomb raider can pack on that kind of muscle without a balanced diet. In the slim Vikander's case, that meant eating five times a day.

According to USA Today, Vikander would start the day with three poached eggs, followed by a protein-rich snack of either artichoke hummus or quinoa tabbouleh with feta, mint, and lemon. For lunch, she'd would put down some fish or other protein, paired with slow carbs from potatoes or quinoa and vegetables. Later came another snack, and then another protein-rich dinner.

Eating wasn't particularly difficult for Vikander, who — like many of us — has always had a taste for quality food. In fact, she used to find it difficult to get enough food at Hollywood soirees. "People don't eat," Vikander explained to E! News. "There's a lot of food everywhere and I'm like, 'Where are the plates?' It's always like that. It's not like that in Sweden where I come from. You sit down and have a meal and celebrate properly. I go to those things and I just realize this is just the place where you get really really hungry."

No need for speed

Though cardio is always an important part of any workout regimen, it wasn't a primary focus for Lygdback and Vikander — and it's pretty easy to understand why. Vikander has always been lean and mean, and since cardio is an excellent way to shed weight, putting in miles on the treadmill wasn't exactly a priority. Rather, Vikander's workouts focused on exercises which would help her pack on muscle.

Still, it's rarely wise to exclude cardio altogether, so Lygdback did have Vikander lace up her running shoes from time to time. After all, there's still quite a bit of running in Tomb Raider.

In place of jogging for miles on the treadmill, Superhero Jacked recommends you try a HIIT (high intensity interval training) treadmill exercise instead. For example, start your morning workout with 30 minutes on the treadmill, alternating between 1 minute of walking and 1 minute of sprinting. While not made for endurance, this workout will certainly help you explode out of the blocks like an Olympic sprinter.

Watch out, Ronda Rousey

Spoiler alert! Vikander — like Lara Croft — can legitimately kick your ass, thanks to the incorporation of mixed martial arts training into her workout regimen.

Vikander got into fighting shape by regularly entering the ring, where she learned how to strike with the heels of her palms and deliver kicks with the top of her foot. Additionally, she learned how to tap out opponents with chokeholds and other submissions, while her sparring sessions would generally be followed by sets of squats, bear crawls, pushups, assisted chin-ups, and medicine ball tosses.

"I loved that it was integrated that she was a very physical being," Vikander told E! News. "I loved that it was in the story described that she had these physical aspects of her life, which makes it more plausible for you to buy that she can go through these things. She's put through all these obstacles and she has to bring out the skills that she has within her and refine them and define them and also bring out the warrior within her."

No days off

Vikander's astonishing work ethic can never be questioned, as evidenced by the sheer number of roles she's played in such a short period of time. For her, there are no days off — and that applies to training. According to USA Today, Vikander's regimen didn't stop once the filming of Tomb Raider began. She actually woke up every morning and hit the gym before makeup, often as early as 4AM. Think about that the next time you want to snooze through breakfast.

Even though Vikander was on her training grind 6-7 days a week, she still required rest. After all, properly giving your body time to recover is crucial to seeing the best results. For the hard-working star, however, slowing down is rarely easy. "She needs someone like me [to say], 'It's OK. We're going to take a step back. Take a day off. Relax," Lygdback explained. He also claimed, "The hardest part for her was when I would force her to take a day off to recover."

8-pack abs

The fruits of Vikander's labors are certainly on display in Tomb Raider, where she has a chance to show off all that muscle she packed onto her frame. However, one particular result has really caught the attention of the internet.

While most people would kill for six-pack abs, Vikander's sporting a ridiculous eight-pack. According to Lygdback, that's thank to his patented methods. "I also did Tarzan with Alexander Skarsgard, and he had an eight-pack as well," the trainer told POPSUGAR. "I have a specific way of working the core. I divide the core into three different days, and I approach the core differently every day."

If you want to go for an eight-pack yourself, you can mix up "dynamic, static, or isometric abs" routines "with rotational stuff, working the obliques" — but know that everyone is different. "It depends on you and where you are, and if you've got any issues with the back," Lygdback noted.

A Lara never seen before

Finally, Vikander didn't just prepare for the role of Lara Croft by getting cut. She also underwent some mental preparations to get herself ready to play the death-defying adventurer.

Vikander sees her version of Lara Croft as a positive role model for young women — a viewpoint not traditionally held by many throughout the history of the video game character. "I very much see her as a model for many young women," Vikander told Marie Claire. "She also has a fantastic mix of traits — tough, smart, vulnerable, plus she's kick ass!"

Lara Croft is also entirely unlike any character Vikander — whose career has largely been defined by period pieces and romantic dramas — has ever played before. "It's a lot of fun trying to get into Lara's head," she explained, "and the challenge of getting to grips with such a physical role is an element of this project that I find an absolute thrill."