What’s the ‘Viking Fitness’ trend got to do with Vikings?

Inspired by toughness and encouraging its followers to never step on a scale, the Icelandic Viking Fitness trend has been hard-to-shake over the past year. It strips fat, increases performance, and increases metabolism quicker than other workouts, apparently. But what does it have to do with Vikings?

Traditionally, Vikings wouldn’t have worked out on purpose, besides practicing their fighting skills. They didn’t go for jogs or do Pilates. They simply lived in a time when life was hard, and nearly everyone was accustomed to an agrarian life of physical labor. So what’s the deal with “Viking fitness?” In short, it’s all about attitude: being mentally tough is an important part of being physically tough.

Being from Iceland is tough

The Icelandic personal trainer Svava Sogbertsdottir who founded the Viking Method explains that Icelanders have developed an intense toughness after “surviving centries of isolation, cold,

[and] enormous volcanic eruptions.” The theory is that in channeling that spirit, your workouts will be better. Not only that, but they’ll be pleasurable and addictive.


The Viking Method is a form of high intensity training that burns fat and increases metabolism with a heavy focus on strength. Ok, that part kinda sounds Viking-ish.

The trainers who use the Viking Method reserve the rigorous regiment for those who are already pretty fit and looking to take it to the next level. In other words, probably not for me. I’m on the couch phase of my couch-to-5k plan.

A Historical Twist

For something a little less intense, you could turn to Erkia Franz’s twist on a Viking workout routine with her metaphor of rowing to shore, running up the beach, scaling the rocks, attacking, looting, and returning to sea. Her blog at erikafranz.wordpress.com does a great job of giving primary sources to back up all of the phases of a Viking raid, and then translating them into a fun workout.

She’s written a workout routine for gym equipment and one you can do at home.

For the home workout, here are the steps:

  1. Row to shore: Let me ins (wrap a towel around a door knob on both sides, with your feet clasping the door’s edge, or just hold on to the door knob. Sit back with knees bent, and pull  yourself up to standing. This makes a rowing motion. 10-15 reps.
  2. Run up the beach: Do “mountain climbers,” start off like you’re going to do a push-up but pull your knee up to your chest one at a time instead. Do 20 reps each leg.
  3. Scale the rocks: Do 10 reps for each foot of stair stepping
  4. Attack!: Do weighted bar or Indian Club exercises, as shown in the video below.
  5. Loot: Pick a few medicine ball exercises (or use a small box or bag packed to be heavy) and repeat 10 times.
  6. Return over the rocks: Plyometrics with step or improvised platforms (or an old coffee table) – jump up with two feet, and step back down, 10 reps.
  7. Back down the beach: Mountain climbers again, 20 reps for each leg
  8. Row back to the boats: Let me ins again, 10-15 reps.

Actor Clive Standen’s Viking Workout

If you’re a fan of History Channel’s Vikings, then you know that this show will make you feel a lot of things – including a simultaneous burning jealously and tingling attraction to the chiseled muscles of literally everyone on the show. Even the priest has a six pack.

Clive Standen, who plays Rollo (who is, I might add, racking in way more shirtless screentime than all the other characters combined). Standen thought about how the Viking physique would have really been – physical labor would have developed strong backs and shoulders with a stong core from all that rowing – and built his workout around the muscles a Viking would have organically developed.

His workouts were mainly done outside, and many times even on location while filming with kettle bells being hauled up to remote locations along with the rest of the filming equipment. If you want to look like Rollo, you’ll need to do lots of weighted tail springs, kettlebell farmer walks, and using a sandbag for power cleans and presses.

Of course, working out like a Viking should probably also be accompanied by eating like a Viking, which means more plants, less meat, more fish, and tons of local seasonal root veggies, greens, fruits, nuts, and beans.

And don’t forget to whip your hair around.

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What’s the ‘Viking Fitness’ trend got to do with Vikings?