Don Saladino pumping out some heavy kettlebell goblet squats.

Ryan Reynolds’ Trainer Says Back Squats Are “Unnecessary.” Here’s What to Do Instead

Split, goblet, Zercher, and Frankenstein squats are safer.

It’s no secret Ryan Reynolds is getting jacked for Deadpool 3. Afterall, he has to keep up with the massive amount of calories (and killer workouts) Hugh Jackman is putting back to become Wolverine again.

Thanks to celebrity trainer, Don Saladino, Reynold’s training routine is laser-focused on heavy compound lifts like bench presses and deadlifts. But surprisingly, back squats might not be on the menu.

Back squats are one of the best exercises for building lower body and functional strength, but they’re not for everyone, Don Saladino told Insider. With back squats, there’s a lot of risk for the reward. It’s not that the movement isn’t beneficial; but, you need to “earn” them, he explains.

“Most of the general population is lacking freedom in their body and they’re tight in certain areas that will not allow them to be able to back squat efficiently,” he adds. Problems that significantly increase the risk and decrease the reward of doing back squats.

This doesn’t mean you won’t ever have the mobility or strength for back squats, it just means you might need to work on it. How to know for sure? Here’s what Saladino looks for and exactly how to fix it.

Why You Shouldn’t do Back Squats

According to Saladino, if you can’t rotate your legs outwards from the hip, extend the mid-back, and bend well at the hips and ankles, you probably won’t be able to get into the right position for a classic squat. Let’s unpack that.

Your hips are weak

No, squats aren’t bad for your knees; however, if you can’t rotate your leg outwards from the hip (hip abduction) you might have problems. Knee valgus (or a movement pattern where your knees collapse inward during a squat) can lead to knee pain. Weak glutes—specifically a weak glute medius (the muscle responsible for hip abduction)—are the main perpetrator of knee valgus.

To fix it, strengthen your glutes. Focus on exercises like Romanian deadlifts and hip thrusts which place more emphasis on the glutes. During squats, loop a resistance band just above your knees—it’ll help activate your glute medius while encouraging you to push your knees slightly outwards and over the toes, exactly where you want them.

Your posture sucks

If you can’t extend at the mid-back (also called the thoracic spine), your body will borrow the mobility from other areas of your body—namely, your hips. Which in turn can place excessive pressure on the low back and knees.

To fix it, focus on building thoracic spine mobility. Exercises like open books, that focus on the T spine’s main function (rotation) can help open things up. But to increase T spine extension specifically, try a chair stretch or upward-facing dog.

Hate to break it to you, but your mid-back isn’t the only problem. If your lower back is excessively arched (anterior pelvic tilt) or rounded (butt wink), it can hurt your lower back and your squat performance, too.

You lack hip mobility

Squats should be performed with a neutral spine—where the vertebral column is stacked in its natural alignment. In this position, the load you’re bearing compresses directly down the spine, where it’s most resilient to injury. However, if you lack hip mobility during a squat, your body steals the mobility it needs from your lower back, placing excessive force on the spine.

Hip flexion test

How to tell if your hips are lacking in the mobility department? Try this test.

  • Lie on your back with one leg flat on the floor and one knee bent.
  • Bring your bent knee to your chest while keeping your other leg on the floor.
  • If you can’t move your knee closer than a 90-degree angle with your hip, your mobility is likely limited.


How to increase hip mobility

Tight hips are normal, but shouldn’t be the norm if you want to squat properly. To loosen up try a half-kneeling hip flexor stretch, pigeon pose, or frog stretch.

You lack ankle mobility

As you squat, your toes inherently come closer to your knees—this is called dorsiflexion. If your calves are tight or you lack the mobility necessary to adequately dorsiflex your ankle, you might struggle as you lower into your squat.

Ankle dorsiflexion test

How to know if you lack ankle mobility? Try this test.

  • Get into a half-kneeling position with your front foot directly under your knee and your toes about a hand’s-width away from a wall.
  • Bend your front knee, trying to touch it to the wall while keeping your entire foot planted on the ground.
  • If you’re unable to touch the wall you likely have limited ankle mobility.


How to increase hip mobility

Try an elevated calf raise—by standing on a step you’ll stretch your calf at the bottom of the movement, and strengthen it at the top. In the meantime, squat with your heels elevated on a weight plate or squatting wedge, or wear heel shoe inserts.

Back Squat Alternatives to Build Lower Body Strength

Saladino doesn’t have anything against back squats, so long as you can do them right. If not, “there are so many things you can exhaust first that are so much safer and that aren’t going to put people into a compromising position,” Saladino said. Here are his go-to alternatives.

Split squats

Split squats hammer your gluteus medius and maximus, quads, and hamstrings—which are essential for lower body strength—while reducing the load on the spine by holding the weight at your sides. They’re great for strengthening one leg at a time and building stability.

How to:

  1. Get into a lunge position, with one foot planted behind you and the other directly below your hips.
  2. Shift your weight into your front leg and sit back with your hips, bending the front knee to dip down into a lunge with your back knee hovering just above the ground. (At the bottom of your lunge your knee should be stacked directly under your hip.
  3. Press through the mid-foot and heel of your front foot to stand.


Rear foot elevated split squats

By elevating your back foot during a rear foot elevated split squat, you increase the load on your front leg—enhancing your muscle-building potential.

How to:

  1. Facing away from a bench or chair, rest the top of your back foot on the surface of the bench. Plant your front foot on the floor, directly below your hips.
  2. Shift your weight into your front leg and sit back with your hips. Bend the front knee to dip down into a lunge with your back knee hovering just above the ground. At the bottom of your lunge, your knee should be stacked directly under your hip.
  3. Press through the mid-foot and heel of your front foot to stand.


Goblet squats

In a traditional back squat, the load is on your upper back, placing a lot of tension on the lower back. A goblet squat brings the load to the front of your body—which serves as a counterbalance. This makes it easier on the spine, and easier for you to maintain good posture.

How to:

  1. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell at your chest. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart with your toes and knees pointed slightly out.
  2. Brace your core to keep your spine neutral.
    Sit back with your hips, and bend at the knees as if you’re sitting back in a chair.
  3. Drive through your mid-food and heels to stand.

Zercher squats

Just like a back squat, Zercher squats light up your lower body. However, by shifting the weight to the front of your body, they also activate your upper back and shoulders—which will help build postural strength more than a standard back squat.

How to:

  1. Rack a barbell up at a lower height than normal—about torso height.
  2. Unrack the barbell by hooking it in the crease of your elbows in front of your body.
  3. Stand with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Rotate your shoulders back and down to engage your lats and reinforce good upper body posture.
  4. Activate your core to maintain good postural alignment through the mid and lower spine.
  5. Bend at the knees and hips to sit back with your hips into a squat.
  6. Activate your glutes and drive through your mid-food and heels to stand.


Frankenstein squats

Saladino recommends Frankenstein squats for drilling perfect squatting form. This squat variation is basically a front squat with the bar nestled above your shoulders and your arms and hands extended directly in front of your body. The best part about it: you can’t cheat your form. So, if you have form woes, it’s a challenging but good place to start.

How to:

  1. Rest a barbell on top of your collarbone, where you typically would for a classic front squat.
  2. Firmly plant your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart and stand tall with good posture, activating your core.
  3. Extend your arms in front of you. Your arms should be at a slight upward angle so the bar rests on your shoulders.
  4. Slowly bend at the knees and hips to sit back with your hips into a squat. It’s important to move slowly to maintain control and build eccentric strength.
  5. Activate your glutes and drive through your mid-food and heels to stand.