Barefoot Shoes

Reebok RealFlex Natural Running? A “Barefoot” Running Shoe?

Reebok has officially joined the bandwagon of barefoot running “or natural running.” That may be understating the significance of this event—Reebok has not just created a “natural running” shoe. No, no, they have perfected natural movement. T…

Update 5.15.2011 (see below)

Reebok has officially joined the bandwagon of barefoot running “or natural running.” That may be understating the significance of this event—Reebok has not just created a “natural running” shoe. No, no, they have perfected natural movement.

The Reebok Realflex is a new* shoe design intended to allow a foot to flex naturally but with … wait for it … protection! Apologies for my sarcastic tone, it’s just a bit mind-numbing to read how the company that brought us the EasyTone can lay claim to perfecting nature. Perfection and protection — enter the Reebok Realflex.

The Reebok Realflex is being marketed as “Natural movement. Perfected”

Just a little background on barefoot/natural running shoes …

Before we delve further in to the Reebok RealFlex Run, if you’re new to the concept of natural or barefoot running you might take a few minutes to read up on what you’ve been missing. Here are some highlights:

  • On running naturally or gently (the key to running without pain or injury)
  • “What?!? ‘Barefoot running shoes?’ That makes no sense!” Well, we try to make sense of it here, including explaining some criteria for evaluating shoes for natural/barefoot function and movement (The Reebok RealFlex Run would fall in the “Wherefoot” category, in case you’re wondering).
  • “BirthdayShoes” is a pun, by the way. It’s like your “birthday suit” but for your feet.
  • And finally, the Reebok RealFlex’s release likely has a lot to do with the success of Vibram FiveFingers — those are the original toe shoes.

Now about that RealFlex Run …

Here we go again.

I’ve got to handfoot it to Reebok (and Fila for the Skeletoes), way to jump into marketing a new product with gusto—and a lot of money.

Don’t take my word for it, just hop over to YouTube today (April 14) and you’ll see that Reebok has a huge masthead promoting the RealFlex in all it’s 76 “sensor” glory. Actually, the little sensors — anthropomorphic foam rubber pods that cheer you on as you run — are funny little foam monsters. More on those little guys later.

A screencap of the Reebok RealFlex YouTube homepage takeover on 4.14.2011.

If you click on through to Reebok Realflex page (here), you’ll get treated to a full-on explanation of the Reebok Realflex including the background behind the design, which is, believe it or not, barefoot or natural running. Just watch this three minute video (or read the transcription that follows):

Transcription of the Reebok RealFlex info-video

I’ve transcribed the RealFlex video below. It’s worth the read if you don’t want to miss the little gems of marketing brilliance Reebok is spinning:

You’ve probably heard a lot lately about barefoot or natural running and it actually makes a lot of sense from a bio-mechanic standpoint. The idea is that you’re born running naturally. Kids run up on their toes and adults should run up on their forefoot, as well. Bio-mechanically speaking it makes sense because when you land on your forefoot you land with your knee bent so all the shock absorption happens in your muscles not your joints. When you land on your heel all that shock is taken up by the joints in your knees and ankles and hips. So the cartilage is doing the cushioning not your muscles.

If you look at the human foot it’s actually a lot more flexible than you might imagine. When you look at the bones inside the foot there’s a lot of different joints and angles that a lot of people aren’t familiar with. And when your foot moves naturally it doesn’t just flex in the forefoot it flexes throughout the foot so the idea of a natural running or barefoot shoe is to allow your foot to flex naturally everywhere it’s supposed to move.

So when you look at natural running it all seems very, very good. It’s bio-mechanically correct. We’re seeing less joint injuries out there as well. But the problem with it is that natural running makes sense in the natural world. When you get into the man-made world where things are made of concrete and things like that you need something with a little more protection. So our solution is to build in that natural flexibility and natural motion that your foot needs yet protect it when it gets on those hard surfaces.

So our solution is a little different. We want to keep everything that’s great about barefoot running. When you land on that forefoot it’s bio-mechanically efficient and you see lower injury rates in joints. But we want to take that and improve it — namely by adding protection.

There’s two problems with barefoot running. One is landing on the forefoot on hard man-made surfaces such as concrete tends to induce stress fractures. We want to protect that.

So we’re taking your foot and raising it up off the ground and protecting it throughout the foot with 76 sensors each designed to serve a specific purpose under your foot. Back in the heel the sensors are joined together. That’s going to give you heel impact. One of the other issues with running barefoot is that when you’re running downhill you can’t land on your forefoot so you’re going to need that heel protection and this build that in. On the lateral side of the back of the shoe we build those posts a little square to give you support and stability. Up in the forefoot we link those pods together. These nine pods right here are what’s giving you the impact protection up in the forefoot.

All combined it gives you the feel and motion of natural running but with protection. That’s the difference with RealFlex.

We continued the idea of natural running into the upper of the shoe as well. And to do that we took out everything that wasn’t necessary to the upper fof the shoe. So when you look at the upper of the Realflex shoe you’ll notice there’s no lining or padding inside. What’s outside the shoe is inside the shoe as well so the upper is very flexible and allows your foot to move just as naturally as the bottom does.

So the advantages of barefoot running make a lot of sense. We wanted to keep what made sense and make it even better. RealFlex is natural movement perfected.

There you have it. Reebok Realflex is natural/barefoot running movement perfected with protection.

Watching that video I can’t help but think I’m watching a magic trick. In this case, the magician is laying out a convincing case for the benefits of barefoot running. He talks about foot flexibility and running on your forefoot to distribute shock to your muscles. It’s “bio-mechanically correct.” Of course if you’re paying attention, you’ll catch our magician’s “prestige” — it’s when he starts talking about those brutal man-made concrete surfaces. For those, “You need something with a little more protection.”

The “P” Word and Focusing on One Aspect of the Foot at the Exclusion of all others.

I’m going to pick on Reebok but every “barefoot shoe” manufacturer uses the “p” word — protection. It’s just the easy way to argue for shoes over staying barefoot. Nevermind that your eyes and the sensitivity of the foot are natural solutions to avoiding the need to protect your feet from danger. Shoes and protection — they go hand in hand.

I’m picking on Reebok because they really pound the table with the “p” word. In fact, once “protection” is dropped in this video, it (some variant of it) is used another eight times. “We want to protect that.” And don’t we all need a little protection? A little cushioning? Check.

The need for protection established — and the solution being lifting the foot off the ground with a bit of foamy sole — Reebok more or less jumps the shark by equating natural running to having foot flexibility. Nevermind that this focus is at the exclusion of so many other factors important to a “barefoot running shoe” (These would likely fall in the “wherefoot” category, by the way). And the Reebok Realflex solution to having a thicker sole while maintaining foot flexibility is 76 “sensors.” These are mini-platforms collaboratively comprising a sole that has a grid-like pattern—cough Nike Free cough. So equipped, the Realflex’s sole is able to twist and turn and move dynamically with the foot (assuming the videoed flexibility is any indication — we’ve yet to get our feet into a pair). That’s the theory, anyway.

The problem is that foot flexibility is but one of the many facets of the human foot. It’s a little maddening that Reebok has chosen to call the 76 foam pods “sensors” when they are lifting the foot off the ground and necessarily robbing the foot of sensations by muting ground feel. Every shoe does this to some extent. Vibram FiveFingers even do it. A pair of socks even do it. And if you ask me, it’s the incredible sense of the foot that most directs one how to run naturally.

The foot has something like 7,000 or more nerve endings. Even if a block of foam perfectly transmitted a single ground signal to the foot, it’d still be a massive reduction in sense — 76 is not 7,000.

But they are cute little monster marshmallows, right?

And what about that RealFlex heel? Might that impact correct biomechanics?

Even though one can run downhill barefoot in such a way as to minimize impact on your knees and joints (Jason Robillard suggests how to do his barefoot “downhill mogul ski technique” here), Reebok decided to give the RealFlex a thicker heel.

The problem with a heel in a running shoe is this: lifting the heel changes your bio-mechanics, arguably forcing you to heel-strike. That extra bit of foam under your heel just can’t help but catch the ground when your foot is about to land on it’s forefoot. How can the Reebok RealFlex talk about the importance of running landing with your forefoot in one breath and then design a shoe that will encourage a heel strike? And while I’ve not yet run in the RealFlex (an important disclaimer, for sure), I don’t see how this (heel-striking in them) can be avoided — at least for many, if not most, runners.

And why would you design a shoe in such a way that will affect 100% of your running form for downhill running, which probably only encompasses 50% on average of your running?

Perhaps human beings never walked downhill barefoot.

Is the Reebok RealFlex Natural Movement Perfected?

I’m skeptical any shoe manufacturer has perfected millions of years of trial and error (evolution) or omniscient creation (intelligent design), but who knows, maybe Reebok RealFlex is perfection. What do you think? Anyone grabbed a pair yet? If you’re looking to pick some up, CitySports has them for $90 shipped free.

And if they’re designed to protect our feet from man-made surfaces — like concrete and “things like that” — why are Reebok’s marketing materials all showing runners wearing RealFlex shoes while running on natural surfaces?


Trying on a pair of Reebok RealFlex shoes — Update 5.15.2011

First off, in no way is this a true review of a pair of shoes — trying on a pair and walking around a store in them just doesn’t cut it as “enough” to call any thoughts a “review.” However, since there were some initial thoughts I had on my try-on experience, I thought I’d share them.

I like the Reebok RealFlex upper. It’s a suede-like material that doesn’t feel very structured, and even though I was wearing a half size too small (I think — they didn’t have 10.5 in stock), it still felt comfortable — mind I was wearing socks. However, the insides looked like they would be comfortable on bare feet, too.

For that matter, I felt that the upper was more comfortable than both my Nike Free Run+ and the Nike Free 3.0s.

And since I’m comparing, just by my eyes and initial feel, I’d say the heel thickness on the RealFlex was closer to the 3.0 Frees than the Free Run+ (a.k.a. 5.0 Frees). That said, the RealFlex sole actually felt stiffer to me than a pair of Free Run 2s (the new versions of the Free Run+/5.0s — wow this numbering system with Nike is confusing!) CitySports Atlanta had in stock.

Where things fell apart on my initial try-on was that the outside part of the ball of my foot kept wanting to slide off the sole. Seriously. Just walking around the store my foot wanted to slip off the sole to the outside on the front of the shoe. What’s up with that? I mentioned it to the store manager and he indicated that others had made a similar comment. Weird. That said, apparently the RealFlex is flying off the shelves — a testament to a strong marketing strategy by Reebok, even if it is over-the-top and contradictory (as detailed ad nauseum above).

Until I can try on a pair of 10.5s to confirm my size and spend some true time in the RealFlex, this will have to suffice for initial thoughts. I’m very curious if anyone else has felt really destabilized in them &Mdash; that was my lasting takeaway: why did I feel so unstable? Why was my foot wanting to slide off the top of the shoe (in a shoe sized too small)? Anyone else notice this?

One more update 5.23.2010: Just ordered a pair from CitySports. Stay tuned.

* Well, a shoe design that is “new” insomuch as being what appears to be an interpretation** of Nike’s popular Nike Free line.

** Not completely unlike how Fila’s Skeletoes shoes are a “new” take on Vibram FiveFingers. Just sayin’.

By Justin

Justin Owings is a deadlifting dad of three, working from Atlanta. When he's not chasing his three kids around, you'll find him trying to understand systems, risk, and human behavior.

107 replies on “Reebok RealFlex Natural Running? A “Barefoot” Running Shoe?”

They just look like normal shoes with more expensive soles. Not really sure what’s supposed to be soooo special about them.

There seems to be a bit of a marketing thing going on here, “barefoot” is the new buzzword. To me, this is kind of like the Newton idea, building a shoe to promote a more natural running gait, with cushioning and stability etc. I wouldn’t call that barefoot running, which to me implies no shoes at all, or to a lessor degree, shoes w/o padding. This particular shoe, unlike Newtons, looks like 60% marketing, 30% Nike Free Run +, 10% innovation.

Good to see that Reebok have realised that they might have missed a trick, kind of admiting that barefoot is ok and that loads ofpadding isnt needeed.
So why the massive heel? I dont get it.
The whole point is that you cant improve on nature.

I especialy like the bit at 47 seconds in to the video where the guy in the forground is bent over at the waist. Not a natural position.

This shoe cant do anything my foot or my Five Fingers cant do. Open your eyes when you run, avoid the sharp bits and stop numbing our feet with more and more padding. It is that basic. Get back to basic.

I can understand your scepticism -of course- but I think the general tone of your article is too negative. Things don’t change overnight, and there are a lot of people out there that are afraid of getting rid of protection. People that might do with a ‘step in between’, and are now sticking to traditional running shoes instead. Indeed, getting a stress fracture IS a risk if you ‘leap’ into barefoot-running, and who can blame people for being afraid of that?
So here we have another big player on the shoemarket that acknowledges and draws attention to barefootrunning… that’s good news!
These shoes might indeed not be so barefoot after all, but perhaps they do get rid of some inconveniences traditional running shoes do offer. People might discover their feet have more to say to them than they thought. Rediscovering freedom one step at a time ๐Ÿ˜‰ they might even be future barefoot/VFF runners!
Looking forward to a real review, it would be a surprise if these shoes did not have anything at all to offer compared to traditional running footwear.


I think my negativity is mostly geared towards Reebok’s “bait and switch.” They’re talking a big game about natural running only to put out a shoe that is, on the face, Reebok’s version of the Nike Free, which is a far, far cry from barefoot (a post in and of itself — I have the Free Run+ and the Free 3.0s). What more, they talk up the benefits of natural running and then create a shoe that will innately rob you of the sensations required for natural running — and worse, cause you to heel strike.

It’s a bit hypocritical if you ask me. Mind, it’s marketing and like I said, every “barefoot shoe” beats the protection drum, but this feels a little too much like marketing trickery — magic — to me.

And if in the end, people equate RealFlexes to barefoot, then they’re no closer to realizing how far from barefoot they actually are.

But Reebok is in the biz of selling shoes, so I get it.

I’m actually with Dirk on this one…was a little disappointed with the tone of the article. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the few comments in the past month or so that are more in the tone of ‘hey, it’s more about the mechanics and running with proper form’ than the ‘you have to be barefoot or wear VFF’s or huaraches or it’s not even worth it. I was happy to see as I was looking at the ‘Naked Runs’ that the McDougall book tour is hosting, that you can come with as little or as much shoe as you want. Some of us are just not able to run the 5 (much less 10 or 15 or more) miles of some of these runs in something that minimal…but can certainly forefoot/midfoot strike with the best of them.

I would be more likely to argue the ‘perfecting nature’ idea as being somewhat of a stretch, and while I wouldn’t call this a barefoot shoe by any means, I still think it is a step in the right direction. I’d rather have folks experimenting with something like a neutral shoe and learning to forefoot strike (which, even though it is unfortunate that a big heel strike pic is in the ad), the shoe does seem to be promoting.

I guess the end question for me is…what are we about as proponents of barefoot/minimalist/good form running? Is it about supporting the lifestyle, or just latching on to a shoe or two and riding that wave?

If it wasn’t for the RIDICULOUS heel, this would be a good looking shoe. You can’t tell from the pics, but the toe box is probably pretty narrow.

Reebok and Asics both totally missed the point and lost the plot this week with their new “barefoot” running offerings. Both put out shoes with minimalist uppers and huge heels and both used all the popular buzzwords to try to make us believe that we need all that padding and protection in order to run properly.

It’s getting insulting.

So, who still needs to jump on the bandwagon besides Puma and Adidas?


While I completely agree that while some can run without injury or pain in shoes — and Vibrams or huaraches are shoes — my beef is with the intellectual dishonesty of these marketing materials. I’d be much less averse to this stuff it took the argument that these are transitional shoes. Reebok is unequivocally saying these are *better than barefoot* (1) and that (2) all that matters is flexibility. This is pretty reductionist.

Meanwhile, if you’re heel-striking you’re not running naturally. And research (and anecdotal experience, too) both seem to indict an elevated heel as forcing one to heel-strike. If heel-striking while running isn’t natural, then how do you call a shoe with a heel “Natural movement. Perfected.”?

Vibram is far from “perfect” here, too, by the way. Shoes are shoes plain and simple. They all affect barefoot feel and barefoot biomechanics. So let’s acknowledge this as true and then talk about the pros and cons of shoe design a little more honestly and transparently. I don’t think that’s too much to ask — and a little would have gone a long way here for Reebok.

They look pretty cool, just like the Nike Free line. Would I buy them to run in? No Way. Way to much padding just like Free’s and too much of a heel toe drop. When will one of the major shoe companies actually figure out what natural/minimalist running is. I also found it funny that the video talks about protecting the feet on pavement, for I find a clean sidewalk to be one of the best surfaces for barefoot running. Trails have lots of rocks and pebbles, that is when I need a little of the “P”.

So Reebok is joining the game, not in a fashion that I think is totally beneficail to running. There are merits to their approach but also the idea that they are just wanting to get into one more market to get money. I agree with Justin on many things these are not true barefoot shoes. However I also agree with pedalpavementpounder and Dirk to an extent. Sometimes baby steps are required for some people, we all know them, the ones that refuse to listen to our ideas or are to stubborn or scared to take the leap to a true minimalist/barefoot shoe. So step in a better direction, but perfection this is not.

Saw these a few days ago and thought “Reebok Free?” There would be a lot of big money (leading to more research and development and the movement forward of the bf running movement) If One of the big companies like Nike or Reebok would take a page from a company like Vibram or the forthcoming Altra Adam.
It would be easy to dismiss these companies because they are giants, but having them on board (for real) would be a boon to the bf running movement. I would buy a Nike shoe if it was actually a bf running shoe. Nike got into skateboarding shoes a few years ago, and many dismissed them as “the man”, but they did it right, and LISTENED to real skateboarders. Nike/Reebok needs to listen to actual bf runners (like myself)

Coming from an long time ultra distance athlete I can say that there comes a point where protecting your joints, muscles, etc… becomes a higher priority than proprioception. Sure for the average, low mileage runner (who’s largely just running for their health), good ground feel, “natural movement” and minimal protection might be just fine. But if your running a lot of your mileage (high mileage) on rough trails and racing on the same, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not having a bit “more shoe”. With all due respect, while there are folks who can “do it all” in VFFs or barefoot, they tend to be quite a bit slower for my taste and end up having more foot issues because of it. We’ve been told that cushioning is bad, lack of ground feel is bad and even heel striking is bad. I say it depends. Just really focusing on how my stride/impact pattern changes on a typical long, hilly, mixed terrain run I can say at various times I’ve got a shorter stride, a longer one, I forefoot strike, I midfoot strike and heel strike. I think our body is made to handle this kind of variety; it’s an amazing machine. If you think about it, if your going to take the “natural running argument” then our ancestors probably ran/walked the same way on mixed terrain. I refuse to believe there is any one “right” way to run, or “right” shoe or no shoe to wear. It all depends. What studies and anecdotal “evidence” exists seems to me very limited in scope and really focusing on too small of cases.

Sorry, Reebok, but you lose me the moment you call a thick layer of rubber under my foot a “sensor.” What does this rubber sense? Does it have synthetic nerve endings that connect themselves to my foot somehow? Does it audibly scream out “danger danger” when I’m about to tramp over dog dooty? Nope? Then it’s not a sensor.

Oh dear… where do I start with that video?? :-/

So, a “natural surface” like the side of a mountain is fine to run on barefoot, but a “man made surface” is bad to run on barefoot because you get stress fractures from the impact? Oh, yeah, that makes perfect sense :S

“YOU CAN’T FOREFOOT STRIKE GOING DOWN A HILL”?!?!?!?!? Has this dude even tried barefoot running?!?

Eeewww… Heel striking!! :S

They are just jumping on the barefoot/minimalist bandwagon. Problem is, Vibram has so much of it sewn up with their patents on VFFs and minimalist outsoles like those onthe Merrill barefoot. Not much left for Nike and Reebok to do but tweak existing designs.

Another marshmallow shoe. I pity the fool who designed this misconception.

As I increase my mileage, I have to say I agree a bir with rob, specially if you run ultras. But for that bit of added cushioning there are truly well though, zero drop, flexible and wide toebox shoes out there. Go get a minimus for example.


It’s worth mentioning the Minimus isn’t zero-drop — 4mm heel-to-toe. But even so, they are substantively less shoe than these (or the Frees). Their heel thickness is only about 15 mm (maybe 5mm more than Treks).

I understand that Reebok, and every other shoe manufacturer in the world, needs to market their shoes in order to sell them. What is bothersome is that they are marketing these shoes as barefoot shoes and adding a thick heel. I’ve had a callus or two in my day but none of them ever got my heel as thick as the heel on any “running” shoe. At least with the Merrells barefoot line, the heel is very minimal. This, although it may be lightweight and minimal on top, is still a high heeled shoe. Glad to see another player in the market, but almost all fo them still have a long way to go before they get it right.

even though this isn’t really “minimal” at least companies are trying to head that direct!! i’m sure in a few years from now minimal will be the standard which is good for us.. and i mean MINIMAL not these, but we are heading the right direction thank god, just a bit more we can freak out or be happy cause we are getting there, seriously we are ๐Ÿ™‚

I think most of us can agree that the primary goals should be for a “shoe” to have:
(1) Zero Drop
(2) Be extremely flexible
(3) Have ample toe room for toe splay

Now, IMHO, variables to play with, depending on application/use would be:
(1) Shoe thickness (this encompasses amount of cushioning (if any) and possibly thickness of a “rock plate”
(2) Traction, could be encompassed in thickness if going for a deep tread for trails, or sticky rubber…

There could be other factors, but the top three are definitely the way shoe companies should be steering, it’s really, IMHO, the later two factors are what should be the driving variables depending on application.

“One of the other issues with running barefoot is that when you’re running downhill you can’t land on your forefoot so you’re going to need that heel protection and this build that in.”

The stupidest thing I ever heard/read.

All that protection plus flexibility does not equal a “natural” feel… and I would like this guy explain why i had two stress fractures with Heavy padded shoes and now im 4 years into running barefoot and have had no injuries at all…

I love the “you can’t forefoot strike going downhill” comment. Or implying running on concrete isn’t safe. I agree, all these companies marketing shoes “barefoot-like” is a step in the right direction, but please stop trying to make us believe you’re actually perfecting on nature by stuffing our feet into “dumb’d-down” boxes with jack’d up heels.

Great post Justin – like you, I’m sick of the marketing. These things are better than Reetones or Zigtechs, but they’re by no means going to encourage a barefoot-style gait with that heel and cushioning. Kudos to companies like Vibram and Merrell for doing things right.

this shoe is just blatantly no different than other thick shoes – its no brainer here. totally their marketing is deceiving us.

Silly marketing with a lot of nonsense


Take a knife to these like I did my Zoots and you COULD have a pretty good minimal shoe once you cut those “sensors” down to 3-5mm.

Thanks for the clarification Justin, certainly minimus are not zero drop, but I meant, if you want a bit more of cushioning and midsole, it is a good alternative, closest to the ground, thant this reebok inception.

To me, the merrell trail gloves or the kso trek are enough protection even for technical trails with roots and rocks. I have never run an ultra, but maybe in that case you may need a bit more of midsole.

I think every one should right a letter to nike shoes.
Bare foot shoes? theres no such thing, you are either barefoot, (nothing on the foot) or your not, wearing anything on the foot, I have found many misconceptions and missinformations in this ad, 1 this shoe does NOT promote natural running, two, there are no natural biomechanics with this shoe, the thicker heal promotes heal strikes, and the forefoot is not allowed to spread out naturally, being restricted by the shoe. once again we have another shoe designed off of misconceptions and misinformation. Nike should also be aware that false advertising is a serios offence.
yOu can not call a shoe “Barefoot” because you are NOT barefoot, and this shoe does NOT do what barefeet are supposed to do in natural biomechanics. a lot of shod people are going to be missled by this ad.

What, no giveaway? How are we supposed to evaluate this perfection of natural movement without a chance at receiving a free pair of shoes from Reebok? ;-P

I like how the upper-left picture of the guy in the collage is so expressive. The guy seems to be holding the shoe and talking about it in disbelief: Like, “WTF is this? And why are we out in the middle of nowhere?”

Great marketing! Ha!


I think most of us can agree that the primary goals should be for a “shoe” to have:
(1) Zero Drop
(2) Be extremely flexible
(3) Have ample toe room for toe splay

I think this neglects ground feel. The human brain allocates a pretty big “map” (see this image) to foot sensation — so robbing our brains of that sense seems pretty fundamentally unnatural to me. Beyond that, the most obvious difference to me about running in VFFs versus barefoot is ground feel — I get way more barefooted. And that extra sense educates my form. In fact, when I am having any knee issues running in VFFs (my form being stubbornly bad), if I just take them off and run barefoot on man-made surfaces any aches disappear (though my feet feel a lot more stuff — and I can’t just run for miles barefoot at this point due to not perfecting friction on the ground).

We’ve been told that cushioning is bad, lack of ground feel is bad and even heel striking is bad. I say it depends.

I agree and if you have your form down well enough you can run in just about anything. It’s just that form is hard to nail for many of us without ground feel. I’ll add that if your body is wanting cushioning when you’re running really far in minimalist shoes, maybe that’s a sign you’re running unnaturally far. Just throwing that out there ๐Ÿ™‚

@Adam B,

I agree with you, but under part of your criteria, Vibram is also committing a serious offense – as they are barefoot shoes as well, and call themselves such, and are clearly not barefoot, as there is something on your foot. Nike is also hardly the only one that is on the “pseudo barefoot” bandwagon – and incidentally, this thread is a Reebok thread, not a Nike thread.

I agree with krazygoat: If they removed the silly heel on the Reebok, they might end up with a pretty decent minimalist shoe. The remaining problem would be what appears to be a standard (too narrow) toe box. I don’t think it would be zero drop, but it would be really close.

I would love to see Merrell go a little bit further with the Trail Glove make the toe box even more foot-shaped, like the Altra Adam.

Looks like a Nike Free to me. No better, no worse. And that’s Ok — a lot of people like the Free line, but it’s clearly not “barefoot” or even “minimalist.” So take this shoe for what it is – a reduced trainer. I do agree with Justin that Reebok has badly oversold this one, but that’s really nothing new. The makers of the Kinvara, Free, and Minimus are all guilty of the same.

Re: the comments saying “it’s a step in the right direction.” I used to think that way, but having spent the past year trying out “reduced trainers” (Brooks Launch, Saucony Kinvara, Nike Free Run+) I actually don’t know about that now.

“Less shoe” isn’t really the goal. Better biomechanics is the goal. With very minimal shoes (or barefoot), you’re forced to relearn your biomechanics. These “reduced trainers,” on the other hand, take away support, but they don’t force you to change your biomechanics. So you go from running with bad biomechanics and plenty of support to bad biomechanics and very little support. That can actually lead to even worse injuries than running in more supportive shoes. I’ve found this out the hard way.

“They are just jumping on the barefoot/minimalist bandwagon. Problem is, Vibram has so much of it sewn up with their patents on VFFs and minimalist outsoles like those onthe Merrill barefoot. Not much left for Nike and Reebok to do but tweak existing designs.”

I doubt that Vibram hold any patents to manufacture shoes with zero heel-to-toe drop, thin soles and wide toe boxes.

I agree with Rich being skeptical about the “inbetween” shoes, like this one and Nike Free. Actually, I think they can cause injuries to many of us. Not only because they allow to keep your heelstriking running technique, but because you are standing on an unstable cushion.

That unstable cushion can severely exaggerate foot movements, for example take pronation to extreme levels. This depends on individual and details in how pressure is put over the foot in the stride. If you put somewhat uneven pressure on that cushion it will collapse unevenly — over and over again the same way for every step. A recipe for overuse injury.

I’m one of those that have “normal” foot movements barefoot, in minimalist shoes (no cushioning) and in stable traditional shoes, but in unstable cushioned shoes I overpronate badly, and I actually got some TP injury from that. I will never use these type of shoes again.


What do you mean by “unnaturally far”? Are you suggesting that ultra distance is unnatural? Did anybody explain that to the Tarahumara, Chasqui running messengers from Peru, the Greek messengers (i.e. Pheidippides) who regularly ran hundreds of miles? Perhaps I’m not conditioned enough to go with very minimal padding on extremely long runs on rough terrain, but to say running extremely long distances isn’t natural is a sort of cop out. For most training purposes I agree that ground feel/feedback is important, however there has never been a time when I’ve been 75-80 miles into a tough mountain 100 mile race when I’ve said to myself, “Boy, I wish I had less padding or protection around my feet and more ground feel!” Just saying…

i find it very interesting. like you, i agree it appears to be an interpretation of the nike free line. the main thing i noticed in the 3-minute video(the first one) is that the design of the shoe is just like any other shoe. the foot bed, while not having any insole or lining as they claim, almost looks as if its designed with a lip, or almost a cup for a footbed. that would simply cradle the foot and not allow it to spread out as it would naturally upon impact which would in turn not allow the bones of the forefoot to move as they should naturally. i have yet to try a pair on but i’m definitely real skeptical about these.

you can’t run downhill on your forefoot? has reebok looked into the proper methods of running period? proper barefoot/minimalist runners, or even all runners in general, should have a natural lean forward allowing gravity to pull them forward, similar to how a child who just learned to walk moves. not so much actually walking, but trying to stay up right. its a crude way of explaining it, but its true. i believe its explained better in the chi method, or maybe the pose method of running.

an elevated heel? seriously? i have no comment for that. that’s just rediculous. even if i do get ahold of a pair of these to try out i have a strong feeling i will be taking them to a belt sander to thin out the sole, especially the heel. worst thing to put on a shoe that you label “barefoot” or “minimalist”


I’m not saying that people can’t run that far naturally, but I think that listening to your body is paramount to maintaining your health. If your body is screaming from running so far, I’d argue that it might be trying to tell you something.

You mention ancient runners — were they running in cushioned shoes? I don’t think EVA was around back then. Or take the Tarahumara — aren’t they choosing to run in huaraches? Why? I don’t know.

While cushioning over long, long runs may make sense — something only you can be the judge of — the majority of runners aren’t running ultras on a weekly basis or even less frequently than that. And ground feel — *in my opinion* — is the number one training input when it comes to running lightly and with low impact. So to the extent that adding cushioning robs ground feel, I think it robs valuable feedback to your body. And to the extent you’re not getting proper feedback, you could be putting yourself in an injurious situation — whether you’re running ultramarathons or just two miles.

Just my opinion, of course — and I speak more as someone who doesn’t run ultras.


My body doesn’t “scream at me”, I’m just wondering how one can argue against protecting one’s feet when covering very long distances over rough terrain? Seems a bit ridiculous to me. You can’t cover long distances w/o some sort of pain, at some point your body will break down, your form will break down, etc… thus the need for protection. Whether that protection comes in the form of EVA or thick animal skin makes no difference. Ancient messengers most assuredly wore thick sandals or moccasins of some type. Why? To protect their feet! I’m not arguing that jogging around the block you don’t need all the cushioning or protection. Go for it. I get by with almost no cushioning and zero drop, flexible shoes or VFFs most of the time in my training as well. I just think we’re talking apples and oranges here. What’s good for training or recreational mileage may not necessarily be the best “fit” for running high mileage or long distance races. I think the most general thing I can say is that everybody needs to learn to “run gently”, if they can accomplish that with minimalist shoes or barefoot, great, if they like big cushy shoes with raised heels, I’ve got no problem with that either. I think our bodies are amazing machines that are highly adaptable; which is why there are plenty of runners who can run in just about anything and never be injured (and vice versa).

@ Anders:

Good point about the unstable cushioning. The Nike Free just feels weird underfoot, like strangely squishy (and this one looks the same).

My point is even broader than that though. Take a shoe like the Kinvara. It’s got stable cushioning and a reduced (4 mm) drop. So one might say that it’ll help you transition.

But I don’t think that’s right. If you currently have good form, you will be able to maintain it in the Kinvara. If you currently have bad form, you’ll be able to maintain that, too. It’s minimal enough to allow natural running and built up enough to allow all of the bad habits that people usually develop in structured trainers.

So if you’re coming from built up shoes, you’re probably not really going to “transition” in the Kinvara – you’re just going to keep your old, bad habits. And what’s worse, you won’t have the support and structure of a shoe like a Brooks Adrenaline.

Yes, you read that right. It could very well be WORSE to NOT have that support. Much as we all (on this site) don’t like orthotics, arch support and such, that stuff actually does protect weak feet and help compensate for bad form.

I’m not saying that makes orthotics a “good” thing; they’re a “downstream” fix to what’s essentially an “upstream” problem (bad form). But getting rid of the downstream fix without making the upstream fix leaves you with no fix at all, and I think that can be the most dangerous situation of all. So I’d be very careful with a shoe like this Reebok (and the unstable cushioning only makes it an even worse option than something like the Kinvara).

Ok, so went out yesterday and bought these and…LOVE THEM. The rubber isn’t rubber, it’s super light weight foam and you feel every “sensor” and the flex and shape to the surfaces you’re on, giving you more feeling than some of the other runners I’ve tried.

I’ve had bad experiences with pointy rocks, tiny pieces of glass and other unknowns ripping up my feet, so I’m not against a little something to protect them.

These are cool. I don’t know if I’m in love, but the foam is a lot lighter and less rubbery and thick than it looks.

I like them.


I think we’re debating something from two perspectives — which really makes for (as you say rightly) an apples to oranges comparison. I’m also throwing in an argument that is basically akin to “if your body is hurting, it’s trying to tell you something,” which may be beside the point in the case of an ultra.

Ultimately, a minimalist/barefoot shoe for an ultra runner is a more specific use case than an average recreational runner. I’m mostly arguing that:

1) most runners aren’t running ultras
2) ground feel is important for educating and maintaining proper running form
3) ground feel should be a consideration for barefoot/minimalist shoes

If we’re talking what’s natural, then allowing your foot to feel the dynamics of the surfaces it touches is a requirement for a shoe that allows the foot to function naturally. More cushion = less ground feel. Any shoe = less natural. So we’re talking about a grey area here.

If we’re just talking about designing shoes for X, Y, or Z goal (merits for ultras being one of them), then there are a different set of parameters.

Anyway, I agree with you in more ways than it probably appears — and also realize ultras are in no way my area of expertise.


Mostly agree with everything you say, I just don’t necessary agree with broad sweeping generalizations about what is “natural” or what is “good.” Might be better served to know for what range of mileage we’re talking about, what kinds of terrain. For recreational running, i.e. low mileage on even surfaces I can totally agree with what you say. However I think much can be learned by examining the extremes in our sport as well, but listening and reading about experiences of ultra runners for who better represents the type of activity our ancestors engaged in on a daily basis? Covering long distances, off road on gnarly terrain, often for days at a time? Sound familiar. So just because ultrarunners might be in the minority doesn’t mean their experiences should be ignored. If anything I think the rec runner can learn a lot from their experience.

As for the comment “if your body is hurting, it’s trying to tell you something”, if all we ever did was 100% listen to our body and quit running when we “hurt” then nobody would run more than 20 miles! There is a difference between discomfort, fatigue and serious injury type pain; only through experience will one learn the differences. For running long distances, sometimes you’ve got to just turn your brain off for a while and keep trucking! ๐Ÿ˜‰


“Covering long distances, off road on gnarly terrain, often for days at a time? Sound familiar.”

I’m not 100% on board with the notion that the driving factor on human evolution was the ability to run long distances — maybe it is, but there are plenty of indigenous human cultures that thrived without running prey to death. If anything, the wide variety of situations within which human beings can live speaks more to human adaptability/perseverance than it does to a specific lifestyle. We’re not all Tarahumara nor are we Inuits or Kitavans.

I guess what I’m getting at is that I think it’s risky to hold out one people’s traditions — even if they are very old traditions — as “the way all human beings should eat/live/whatever.”

That said, seems we can learn something from every extreme and every ancient culture — and long-distance running is clearly an ancient human practice across various human cultures.

I think the reason for the sarcastic tone (which is well deserved) isn’t the crap factor that this shoe carries, its the fact that its another perfect example of a wannabe company trying to get some money. Its the same way with Asics right now with the Blur 33 line that says the shoes “provide a natural, minimalist running form from HEELSTRIKE TO TOEOFF…”???

Minimalism to the masses for the sake of money is what is wrong here. Reebok is a failure in running products to begin with we all know we’ll see injuries galore after these are released…not to mention a likely lawsuit from Nike. I work in a run specialty store and advocate natural midfoot/forefoot form to as many people that will listen and it is not necessarily a shoe change, though those will help. I get customers everyday that experimented with barefoot treadmill running over the winter and they come in for stuff like the Free’s and it is too much shoe for them after experiencing true barefoot running, even in the 3.0’s. This is another shoe that makes a stab in the dark for someone’s wallet and all we will see will be dissatisfied, angry, injured runners who will sadly and wrongly, give up on running.

@Justin, great articles! iยดm new to the site but not to the notion that i must get closer to barefoot…since i started with my own little journey to the realm of a more natural lifestyle iยดve been feeling way better and also, been seeing more clearly the type of marketing that you correctly pointed out and that we all here can laugh about…the music, the “expert” the happy faces, my god…one has to imagine the wonderland that those creative meetings reebok and nike have with their ad agencies are…i totally get your argument, they have to sell and it seems that throwing a little lie here and there gets them the numbers they want, i just hope for not so very long.

By the way Justin, i just wanted to ask if you have written something related to basketball and the shoes worn by players throughout its history? -iยดve started applying some of the logic in running to basketball, more minimal, less “hot air”, even customizing a pair of chucks- it would be awesome if you could cover this topic, review the best shoes for the sport, etc.


Is it just me, or is the guy running in the video the clumsiest runner? He steps on every hazard that came his way.

Loving the marketing Bullsh!t!, when did concrete become more dangerous and harder than natural environment? clearly running on made made surfaces is far safer than running on jagged rocks with various hazards on the floor and in the way. This guy is chatty absolute rubbish to justify a floppy shoe

Somehow these discussions always–OK, often–seem to end up about trail running. Most of the people who will buy these new Reeboks will be running on common urban and suburban surfaces, and they will not be wearing minimalist shoes for other aspects of their lives. These are shoes cynically marketed to people who have heard about barefoot/minimalist running and its benefits, but aren’t prepared, for whatever reason, to go there. This is not a serious shoe for the rest of us.

I was at Dicks Sporting Goods yesterday and decided to put this “natural” shoe on. I run in 5 Fingers 6 days a week, but I would like a shoe that offers a little more protection on trail runs. So I thought “why not try the rebook while I was checking out the Merrell”. OMG! In my very humble opinion this shoe is anything but natural! The heel on this shoe is ridiculous! I took off around their little indoor track and I was very uncomfortable. Back to the drawing board Reebok!

Hi there new here I’m not a barefoot runner but i am gonna get a pair of vivo neo’s. With an heal like reebok trainers i’d twist my ankle in minutes. I like the guys comment about relatively flat and smooth being a hazard for barefoot runners.

Also his comment on needing to heel strike downhill sounds strange i’ve always landed on my forefoot with no problem,and ive only been running for just over a year. i imagine you are more like to slip and have an accident landing on your heal because its less stable.

And finally I like how articulated the guy is i mean “erm” “arr” and “um” every other word is not good marketing.

Are we so sure that running on road is better or “safer” than running offroad? One must look at more factors than just what’s directly underfoot that causes hazards. I wonder if there are more repetitive use issues with folks who run on roads all the time versus those who run on mixed terrain? The issue I’d have man made surfaces vs natural terrain is the SAMENESS of running on uniform surface over time as that tends to isolate and limit range of motion, muscles groups used etc… For example I’m always a lot more sore after a long road run as opposed to an equally long trail run. I think the hazards of concrete, pavement, to me, have more to do with the evenness of the terrain that is not natural. If you think about it, there is hardly a thing in nature that is perfectly flat or even surface for very long… Just some food for thought.

Not necessarily disagreeing with any of Rob’s comments above, one of the great things about going to VFFs for me was discovering that the city streets were not the dull undifferentiated surfaces I thought they were before. Every walk became a new adventure–concrete to cobble stones, stepping up and down curbs, feeling the undulations and variations underfoot.

The argument that streets and sidewalks are uniformly flat, therefore not like the natural environment–obviously there are differences–does not comport with my personal experience. My sense is that overly-protective shoes produce a perception of surface sameness that isn’t actually there.

When I spoke about muscle fatigue, pain, soreness from long runs on roads vs trails (or off trails!) I’m coming from my own experience of course, but echo the thoughts of many others I know who’ve shared the same experience. Go for a long run on the roads, the surface itself is largely much, much more uniform than any off road surface, you’re eyes can tell you that! When you cruise along the road you don’t have to engage as many muscles, or have to stretch out nearly as much as you would on uneven surfaces. I think this leads to muscle tightness that, left unchecked, can lead to other issues. So many times I’ve felt much more beaten up after running a road marathon as compared to finishing a very tough mountain 100 mile trail race (Hardrock 100). Seriously! I think there is really something to uniformity of surface, not “hardness” that is an interesting factor to explore.

I work in a store that sells the Reebok. We also sell the Free Run, Kinvara, and the Trail Gloves, among a huge assortment of shoes. While the Reebok is not a shoe I would personally choose, it’s not quite as bad as some are making out to be.

I’ve worn the VFF for a year or so for some of my running. As many would agree, the Trail Glove is the VFF without the toes. Both are true minimalist shoes. As much as I like these shoes, many of our customers are never going to wear something this minimal. They are definitely not for everyone.

IMO, there’s not much sense comparing shoes like the Free Run and the RealFlex with the more minimal shoes. They’re really not the same. That being said, having worn both the Free Run and the RealFlex in the store for a short time, the Reebok does seem to provide more sensory feedback – even more than the Kinvara. The people who will wear these shoes are likely still heel strikers, but they want a more lightweight, minimal shoe. It appears all the major brands will be coming out with something similar this year.

Whenever I sell these kind of shoes I try to educate the customer as to how it may affect their running. Some are ready to make a move away from what seems like the traditional overstriding heel striker, some are not. Many have no interest in relearning how to run, or in the pain it may entail. I do caution people these shoes will not provide the same amount of cushioning or support their other shoes may have. They also will likely not be as durable. But in the end it’s the customer who chooses what they think is best for themselves after weighing the various options. Trying to force someone into a shoe simply because it’s not something I would choose isn’t the best strategy.

Of course there are also people who buy shoes like the Free Run or RealFlex who have no intention of ever running. Same with the VFF. They buy them just because they look different and they grab attention.

I do agree the marketing is rather lame. However, they don’t seem to be going after the hard core minimalist runners. For the market they’re after these shoes may work just fine. I doubt the brands who really cater to the hard core user have anything to worry about.

In the commercial, the head of innovation says that “you can’t land/run forefoot going downhill” . . . Well that strange because, I do. Just really increase the turnover and fly down. ๐Ÿ™‚

Good article, crap marketing voodoo. I’d never buy these myself from the perspective of it just isn’t as good nor better than what works for me today (bikila ls or KSO’s).

The big fat platform heal would definitely make these a non-starter for me.

Now the comment debate on the other hand was very interesting. Especially the trails vs street, long distance (ultra) vs medium distance half-full marathon vs shorter distances say 10k or less.

I think the verdict might still be out on what is the right solution for any given situation with variable D – distance x variable T-Terrain x variable E-Experience

One thing that stood out for me in the video as bunk and maybe later in one of the comments as well, was the perception that a person needs to transition to minimal / barefoot running by going from one platform shoe to a lower platform shoe to a thin shoe to no shoes maybe.

It has been my experience that there is no time like the present to let your feet start using their nerve endings to teach you how to fix your form immediately.

Sure you will not be able to switch from running a marathon in big shoes to toe shoes or no shoes in one go, maybe not even in 1 year or 2, and you may not be able to transition your speed immediately either. But I suspect that if you do a gradual transition through something like the Reebok (Less Fat) RealFlex you just aren’t going to get there at all. It’s kind of like a two pack of cigarette smoker trying to cut down by a cigarette per month.

Although I don’t think these shoes are all they are hyped up to be, I will give kudos to Nike and Reebok for offering customized shoes. Wouldn’t it be nice if Vibram followed suit and let you customize the color (every aspect)of your favorite style of FiveFinger. I checked the Reebok site, and you can customize nearly every portion of the shoe. I know I’d shell out a few extra bucks to be able to personalize my own VFFs. Anyone else?


I’ve been minimalist running for the past month or so. I’ve logged about 200 miles in VFFs or Huaraches (sometimes even barefoot). I just bought a pair of these shoes and I would just like to say that I really enjoy them. They are a nice break from the hard concrete and I think I would really prefer them on runs that are 20+ miles. They are pretty comfortable but I would like to warn that they take a while to learn to use. Since they obviously have no support, its very easy to roll your foot. I’m very used to running barefoot so the high elevation of the shoes distorts my foots perception. I have to say that my foot is ‘numbed’ by this shoe, as any other modern shoe would. Your foot is tricked into thinking its barefoot and therefore you think you have much more balance and flexibility than you actually do. On a more positive note, the construction of the shoe is great and I enjoy the feel. I would not make this my main running shoe, but am planning to keep it for longer runs. My main running shoe has to go hands down to Huarache running sandals. They provide a lot of freedom and enjoyment for me. As for the heel of the Reebok Realflex; for me, it never got in the way of my forefoot strike. I still feel like I can run naturally in them (minus the loss of ground feeling). For my conclusion, I would like to say that you should probably learn how to run barefoot first before using these shoes. More often than not, you will probably hurt yourself running in these shoes if you have not learned how to run with a proper forefoot strike.

Reebok might say this looks barefooting, NO it’s not.

Sorry to sound so negative to Reebok, but it looks like they only did this to produce more revenue for their company. If they wanted to make it truly barefoot, why not design one that has WAY less heel padding and reduce the cushioning more? That would make it really minimal at the least.

I think I will stick with the VFF’s. They’re great anyways!!!! But the least shoe I would wear would be the NB Minimus or Merrell Trailglove.

Concerning the right shoe for a specific distance there is probably no “one size fits all”.

In recent research there’s quite some interest in “muscle vibration”, that is how much your muscle vibrates after impact (it’s not only your fat that vibrates). The body actively and efficiently dampens these vibrations, it is believed that the body does so because vibrations cause damage to the muscles. However, dampening vibrations consumes energy (oxygen) so if you with help of shoes (or perhaps compression clothing) can dampen vibrations you can run more efficiently, since the muscles don’t need to do as much work. This has nothing to do with injuries though (the body can do the job!), just efficiency.

Here’s where the interesting part comes in – different individuals have different resonance frequencies – roughly speaking a light person has higher resonance frequency and a heavy person lower, but there are many more individual parameters. For least amount of work to dampen vibrations, the frequency content of the impact should be as far away from the resonance frequency as possible. This means that you need to adapt the sole hardness individually to each person (and surface) for optimal performance. Perhaps we’ll see such individual adaptations to top athletes in the future.

This may also be part of the answer why barefoot is not performing as well as it should if just looking at the weight parameter (even only 100 gram shoe costs quite a lot extra work on a marathon).

@Rob – this post is not quite relevant to the Reebok conversation. I have been running in Vibrams for over a year including 5 marathons – 3 of which were on back to back to back weekends with no issues. However, I made an attempt to put some serious miles on some very technical trails in my Treks and my feet were very bruised and sore for a few weeks. I am focused on ultra trail running this year which is new to me. I have my first 50 miler coming up in May. Rob, it sounds like you have run some 100 milers in the mountains, could you recommend a good trail shoe for me? Also, in your opinion, will minimalist trail shoes such as the NB Trail Minimus hold up on the longer 50 mile, 100 km technical trail courses? I am all for the barefoot revolution and love my Vibrams but rock and root hurt when they are under brush and you cannot see them. Sorry Justin if I am invading your post for info here ๐Ÿ™‚

There are three types of shoes I will not even consider:

1) Toe shoes. I hated my VFF KSOs.
2) Shoes that are not “zero-drop.”
3) Cushioned shoes.

Due to a ruined right foot I need shoes but I only need a minimum amount of material between me and the planet. If Altra Running ever gets their “Adam” on the market, I suspect they will be the perfect running shoe for me.

Aren’t we forgeting the fact that a large cushy midsole usually results in over pronation? This was one of the first issues Nike dealt with at its onset of thick foamed “shock absorbing” midsoles. I use to sprain my ankle all the time in my reinforced super Nike shoes. Once my foot was lower to the ground, barefoot, or in my VFF’s, ankle sprains have been non existent over the last 5 years. This is basic physics that forced the shoe companys to create pronation control shoes. It’s a downward spiral that ends in destroyed ankles, knees, and hips. A little rubber protection is great, but keep the EVA, springs, gel, air, and other squooshy materials out of the shoe.

Hi, if you read above you will see that I have already posted before. After a couple of runs I just wanted to do a follow up review.

First off, my initial impressions were wrong. I would NOT recommend these shoes. The upper looks very breathable but its not. After a 2-mile hilly run in these shoes, my feet felt like they were are fire. Even after waiting for a couple minutes they didn’t feel like they were cooling down. Also, I originally though the raised heel would not mess up my running gait. I can still run on my forefoot but the raised heel causes my heel to hit the ground much faster than my body anticipates which makes running very awkward.

I think I get it but this is definitely not perfection. They saying that I NEED protection. During the day I wear Merrell’s Tough Glove which is flexible with 0 heel drop but it’s still pretty thick and sensory robbing. I live in my VFF KSOs which are amazing. From my experience there isn’t really a need to pad the foot, the only reason I wear shoes is to keep my feet clean and free of irritation.

The trail runners in the “running buddies” video amused me. I trail run a lot and now only wear KSOs. So far I haven’t even come close to damaging myself by stepping on a rock or branch. Since I can actually feel the ground its like my foot automatically modifies weight distribution when I step on something so it doesn’t hurt and I never lose balance. Without flexibility and sensation one can easily see how it could be easy to step in a shallow hole, have no ability to recover, and roll the ankle causing damage to the peroneal tendons (what happened to me while hiking in very thick and padded boots).

Nice try but that heel is way too thick even for transition…

Hi, Andrew again. This is my third and final post.

I returned the Reebok RealFlex because the upper does not breathe at all. After a short 2 mile run, my foot felt like it was in a 400 degree oven and I couldn’t wait to take them off.

Instead, I went back to Sports Chalet and picked up some Merrel Trail Gloves. I would like to say that the Trail Gloves blow the RealFlex out of the water in every aspect possible. The 0 drop, super light weight (6.3 oz I believe), and breathable shoe is probably the best thing I’ve ever put on. For myself, I would recommend it over the Vibram Trek KSOs and obviously over the RealFlex. I can’t even explain how much I love the Trail Glove. You HAVE to try it out.

i recommend trying the shoes on before commenting. I tried them on yesterday not knowing a thing about the marketing and loved them. massively light weight, comfortable with nice comfort on the ball of my foot. also the heel – although the ball is the more important in my book. priced pretty well. give them a shot. and btw – i did buy them over other shoes.

I agree with your points saying they were marketed incorrectly as a “barefoot” running shoe. but as Hols before me stated, I tried them on not knowing a thing about them, I’m looking for a new free running shoe. they felt great! I test back flipped in them and it felt very nice. I encourage you guys to at least try them out, unless of course (and I understand I am at you are set on only barefoot shoes

I can agree that these seem like a fraud and a pretty desperate reach to simulate natural movements of the foot, BUT in a quasi defense of RBK I like the fact that they are jumping into the ring to make other manufacturers step their game up as well as bring the idea of natural foot movements into the mainstream consciousness. I love my VFF, but I still think they are such a niche product that if it takes Reebok putting out a product like this to get people more curious, then that’s a good thing!

In terms of an actual sneaker, I have been rocking Nike Free kicks for almost two years and enjoy those in that segment of footwear. I would recommend them for a transition to VFF if the jump is too extreme for some people….

I saw a guy wearing these on the DC Metro last night, and the soles were already looking pretty torn up. He can’t have had them more than a week.

I have tried on nike frees, and felt very unstable, I guess the design of this rbks will make for the same feel. In order to transition I would not recommend those, I would use a low profile racing flat or other minimalist options out there with less than 5mm drop but a “traditional” midsole.

After some months wearing almost exclusively VFF/merrell trail/tough gloves, now I cannot stand wearing back shod running shoes, I feel very unstable and like walking on mud.

I recently transitioned to barefoot style running. I just like how it feels. When I was searching for barefoot shoes, I came across this Reebok and tried it on. All it is is a conventional running shoe without all the unneeded padding on the sides and a much more flexible sole. It is a great shoe…if you are interested in a traditional running shoe. But I agree with this post completely…Reebok, stop being posers and either bring us a real minimalist shoe, or get out of the game.

I am just looking for shoes that are flexible and fit in a travel bag without taking up so much space. I just need something that I can work out in either on a treadmill or out walking/jogging. I like the Reebok RealFlex colors but also like the new Newbalance shoes but not sure about their colors.

I’ve never been a big fan of Reebok. I’m not a hater of the brand, just has never been my style. In fact the only reebok shoe I’ve ever run in was the “travel trainer” that I bought in 05/6 when minimal running shoes were few and far between. That shoe was actually quite comfortable and subbed for my old Nike free 5’s on more than one occasion. Regarding the Reeflex, I too was not impressed with the marketing and the overall presentation of the product itself – I think the sole just looks weird (and this coming from someone who owns 4 pair of VFF’s). Now I’m not a fanatic about zero drop shoes for every day use, most of the general wearing shoes I own are Nike frees. Most recently I’ve been using my NB minimus roads as my everyday shoe and running in VFF Bikila LS and a combination of NB minimus trails and Merrell trail gloves. On a recent trip to a local sporting goods store however I saw the Reeflex on the wall and the sample was my size so I threw it on and to my surprise was instantly impressed. These are some of the most comfortable shoes I have ever tried on. While they do have some significant heel/toe drop, it is not nearly as dramatic as seeing the shoe on line made me think. The trick is the way the outsole is built, the midsole is very concaved and the outer sole lugs are taller than the inner lugs (under heel) so the heel actually sits lower in the shoe than the profile would lead you to believe. While this in no means makes this shoe “barefoot”, it seems to be pretty much on par with where many major footwear companies are falling with their minimal offerings. Without any sort of measurement, the shoe felt similar to my old Nike free runs with slightly less heel/toe drop. I would not run in these shoes personally, but I would recommend that those looking for an everyday comfort shoe may want to at least try them on during your search. Of course all of these insights are being made off of less than 5 minutes wearing one shoe in a store… so you’ll need to decide what my take is worth for yourself.

I had been running with VFF’s for quite some time. After a while, my legs and feet weren’t responding to the exercise, regardless of distance. I was constantly feeling pain in all parts of the leg. I switched to Nike Free and all my pain problems went away. I just wasn’t getting satisfaction from the run while wearing them either.

I received a gift card from family because they knew I was looking for new shoes. When my wife and I were in Foot Locker, my wife noticed the RealFlex, thinking of, as she puts it, “the cute little red Reebok guys.” And because of that, I immediately dismissed them. I tried the new Nike Free and hated them. Tried the NB Minimus and hated them. There were no VFF’s around to give a second go so I was at a loss. Until my wife suggested the Reeboks again.

Well, I tried them on and was pleasantly surprised. The “sensors” aren’t at all noticable. In fact, I quite enjoy running in them. Most people have been arguing that the “huge” heel forces heel strike. I’m sorry, that’s totally ridiculous. People heel strike because they run incorrectly, not because there is padding by the heel. Since I don’t heel strike, the “huge” padding is essentially irrelevant and plays virtually no role in my running. The shoe is well-balanced, airy and light. Is it a barefoot experience? No. VFF isn’t barefoot either.

I am not a pro-runner but I have owned Vibrams since very early on. I enjoy wearing them while not running but am completely in pain while running with them. Your bare feet are the only barefoot experience.

And just a point on marketing…
All companies market and peddle their products. Yes, Reebok probably could’ve toned it down but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to go all out for their product. No one thinks Vibram hasn’t profited from the “natural running” trend? Of course they have, many of you being loyal customers.

If the shoe works and you like it, use it. I like Vibrams for walking around and apparently I like these Reeboks for running. No running shoe fits all, in fact, it’s the opposite. Don’t argue about the marketing, argue about whether the shoe works or not. Why don’t we argue on the pros and cons of the shoe rather than the marketing of the shoe?

This is a decent product. Try before you buy as it may not work for you.

While I may not be sold on this shoe, I have to agree with what only a few have said — how can you really comment on this shoe without first trying it? I was very put-off by this whole article. Who cares about the marketing? I only care about the shoe itself and how it works for me. If it causes me to heel strike, then it’s not an effective minimalist shoe.

I looked up this article hoping to find out more about the shoe. Instead, all I got was an unnecessarily long rant about Reebok’s marketing strategy. But really, what company doesn’t market their products? Are you saying you really believe everything you see or read in ads? I was disappointed to have a review on the RealFlex written by someone who had done no research on the shoe itself or actually tried it out himself. Not impressive.

This was a great shoe! I tried it out and the sole is a lil firm, but I like that cuz it feels like um pressing more on the cement than a shoe.

Sorry, but not everybody’s “perfect” like you all are, what with your “ball of foot” strike. I’d like to see somebody who gets a sub 4:50 mile running on the balls of your feet. I got 4:50 in a pair of well-worn in nike zooms.They have less cushioning than any “barefoot” shoe that actually has cushioning-i.e. nike frees, reebok realflex. I tried on the realflex once, took a few steps, and realized that they were wrong for me. So are the fivefingers and teh nike frees. everybody runs differently, so why don’t we all go out and get a pair of shoes that we like?

I think this is a predictable reaction by the pre-barefoot movement manufacturers to get their technology and R&D departments making a product that most of us don’t need and pitching it as something we all need. They don’t want their market share depleted any more so they’ll try and conjure up a demand for something we don’t need.

There will no doubt be a market for these shoes, but perhaps as a transition away from their normal shoes rather than a replacement for proper minimalist shoes.

I am a 37 yr at least one marathon a year runner in my early 60s. I have ran only a little barefoot on concrete and on the beach. I just got a pair of Reebok Real Flex and ran for the 1st time with them. They are comfortable and the foot strike very different than typical running shoes and very similar to a barefoot strike.Haven’t tried them on a long run yet. I am going to ease in given the difference.

I think this shoe is a great conventional shoe. It’s thin and lightweight, but still has enough cushion for those who are not used to running with less shoe. My problem is that it is not zero drop, which helps you fix your stride, this one still lets you heel strike effectively.

I hope the next version allows for a lower differential.

How many marathon winners have worn shoes? I’d bet most cuz running barefoot damages your foot. Say what u wish about these shoes but it seems like people here bash any shoe that’s not a barefoot one. I get it though cuz this is “birthdayshoes”. I have a pair of realflexes. I’ve ran in them and they are super comfy and still transmit the surface feel to an extent even though muted a little. This is expected for nag shoe with a sole. I don’t run barefoot except in grass every once in a while. Sorry but it makes no sense to run barefoot on any other surface. If the world was all meadows and bunnies then no one would need shoes. But these shoes really do, dispite oh so popular belief, promote midfoot/forefoot strike. My opinion: a great running shoe that does what is proclaimed. Tested and approved by me.

I have a pair of these shoes and they are the most comfortable shoe I have ever put on. I CrossFit and they are great for mixing the olympic lifts and running in the same workout. I prefer to do my o-lifts in bare feet but running in bare feet doesn’t work to well for me. These shoes are the best for both worlds that I have fond. Try them for yourself! Great job Reebok!

I recently bought a pair of Realflex after unsuccessfully trying many other brands, including the NikeFree. I am recently back from an Achilles tendon rupture and these are the only shoes that do not push against my still enlarged tendon. All other shoes press aginst my tendon causing serious pain when running. Just yesterday I finally took them Oman 18 mile test drive (something that I haven’t done in more than a year. The Realflex held up wonderfully! My feet didn’t hurt and the overall support was superb. I also like the way the the shoe supports my overall foot.
The one thing I can say is that they do not perform well on trails. I tried and ended up walking instead and even that was difficult. So I have no idea why the commercials show “off road” running.
Other than this, I absolutely love them!

I am back after an Achilles tendon rupture and the Realflex are the only shoes that do not press against my still enlarged tendon. There is just enough padding and support around the tendon without the pressure on it. They also provide great foot support. They are snug and my foot does not slide off the sole. I just wore them on an18 mile run yesterday to see how they would feel. Considering that I haven’t run 18 miles in more than a year, I am quite impressed! They felt great the entire way.
I do not however recommend them for trail work. That was an awful experience. On constant unlevel ground and rocks I could barely walk the trail let alone run it.
Other than this I recommend this shoe for paved running. In fact I am buying two more pair to break in.

I just purchased a pair of these yesterday and took a run in them late last night. I’m not an expert on shoes but these felt great. I could tell they working my muscles more and did not feel as sore when I was finished.

I love these shows and will be buying another pair to just wear around because of how good they feel on my feet.

I own a pair of VFF kso and a pair of the real flex. I’ll be blunt, I do not consider the real flex a barefoot shoe in any way. After running in kso’s for a while now, I don’t even like the thought of wearing my real flexes. Which is a huge disappointment after spending $100 on them. When I first bought them, they served their purpose: running my uphill gravel driveway. And in instances such as this I still prefer the real flex. But if i’m running a track or pavement I need my VFFs.

Guys, this is the best running shoe I have ever worn. I’ve tried many running shoes during my 14-year long running experience and I had never felt something similar. I’m 31 and since getting hold of a pair of Realflex my running times haven’t yet stopped being beaten. I had begun this year scoring 49 minutes for a 10K race, and now I am well into the 40’s owing very much to this shoe. I just feel they push you to pace faster and faster, and that’s awesome. I’ve used them for 5K, 8K, 10K, 21K and my I also managed to finish my first marathon… flawless! No blisters or feet strain whatsoever. I did buy a pair of Scholl’s Gel sports insoles to match, I think they do part of the job too! 100% recommended…and I am getting a second pair very soon, and another pair of soles… brought from the USA

Great article….thanks for all the work you do here! I agree with all your comments.

I live in a very cold climate so I don’t have much choice when selecting footwear in the winter. This winter has been an exception and I just got back from a nice long VFF run.

Anyway… about the RBK’s… I’ve been ramping up my mileage and was interested in getting a “running” shoe to help with cold mega-mile days. I was originally going to buy a pair of Kinvara’s, but I left the store with a pair of the RBK’s instead.

Overall they appeared lower, lighter and less built up than the Kinvara’s. About 20km into a VFF run (I brought the RBK’s in my backpack), I switched over (it was starting to get really cold.) The first thing I noticed were how cushy the insoles were. I immediately tossed the insoles in the garbage!

At first, I found them less stable, so I stopped and tightened them up a little. As I ran a little more I noticed a few things that I liked. The sole may be flexible, but it sure is hard. I did notice the heel rise with every step (and I might grind it down later), but overall I liked it and it did not promote a heel strike (because the rubber material, is not as cushy as it looks so a heel strike would actually hurt a little.)

The reason, why I chose these over the Kinvara was the toe box. The toe box on these are W-I-D-E. And that made a big difference running the last 5 or 6 km of my run after my feet were already fatigued. This is quite a contrast to my Nike Free 5.0’s which are very narrow. I have wide feet and these RBK’s were roomy, while I could never get comfortable in any Nike shoe.

Overall I need to say these running shoes are great for running with little to no impact on you legs and back. The fitting and feel is really good.

Id had been a NB running shoe fan since joining in the Army 6 years ago but just little over a year ago started changing shoes (looking for a lighter feeling)for example the five fingers, but those are not allowed in the service for running.

So recently got these; and so far… good.

Cons: I might hurt my ankles if I run into a ditch, crack, rock or anything else on the road.

I enjoyed reading your article. In my opinion I love my pair of Reebok Realflex running shoes. I really wanted a pair of Nike Free runs but when I went to actually try them on in the store I hated the way they felt on my feet. The Reeboks were on sale so ofcourse me being the cheap person I am decided to give them a try.
First off I can say that my foot was very unstable in the shoe. It did slide off the sole occasionaly. After about 2 weeks I got used to wearing them and it didn’t happen anymore. Almost like my balance improved in them. I wear these to run in and weight train and love that they are comfortable for both and I don’t have to change shoes. I love the material. Running outdoors and getting my shoes dirty is no problem at all. A couple of wipes with a wet towel and they look brand new. Can’t tell you how much that aspect makes me happy! I can’t stand a dirty pair of shoes. So overall I think these shoes are awesome but they do take some getting used to. The next time I need a new pair of shoes I will probably get the same brand.

I have a 35 year running background compeating in over 100 marathons with 20 of those in Boston with a 2:41 PR. I have competed in the Ironman World Championships in Kona 7-times and have run the Leadville 100 2x and the Pikes Peak Marathon as a doubler 7x. I have also been a product tester for 3-major shoe companies. With that said my weekly miles these days is around 80 – 90 and I integrate these shoes into my rotation. I like them, they are comfortable built well and I can achieve my standard 300-miles in them before retiring them. So many people on this thread seem to love to bad mouth a company or their product for no real reason except to spread hate. Shoes are a very personal choice and everyone needs to run in what allows them to train without injury and be ready on race day to bring their best. For me these shoes allow me to do that.

I think I might be one of the only people alive who switched from the VFF bikilas to the realflex. I liked the vff’s but after about a mile and a half in them, my knees started to hurt and then after the run, they were REALLY sore and come to find out I developed runner’s knee. I run on concrete all the time, I never run on anything else. I wanted something that still allowed me to forefoot strike but that added a little more shock absorption than the vibrams. I tried on the nike free’s and hated them and so just for giggles I thought I would try on the realflex’s and I LOVE THEM. For all those who say that it promotes a heel strike, I don’t find that at all. There seems to be a bit more shock absorption (not really padding or cushioning) in the forefoot so it kinda “rewards” you for forefoot striking by absorbing the impact. The heel does not get in the way of my proper form at all. Since I have ran in them, my knees are almost healed and I don’t have the knee pain that I did in the vff’s. Ps. I can still feel the ground just fine in these,

What seems to have eluded the critics is that these shoes actually tip the foot forward away from the heel toward the toe and, in so doing, train the foot to run more naturally. I have been searching for shoes like this for years and now (finally!!) Reebok has introduced something of a hybrid that actually works. Moderation it seems out of the realm of the hardcore runners who are always poised to jump on the current trends and proselytize with religious fervor their newfound salvation. Isn’t it interesting how they always know what’s best for the rest of us…hmmm?

Personally, I would hesitate to recommend the realflex to any new barefoot runner. One cannot objectively judge a “minimalist” running shoe without running barefoot first. I have bought a pair of Minimus trails, but after getting used to barefoot running I find that the toe drop and the relatively thick heel negatively changes my running form. I cannot imagine running in the realflexes, which have even more cushioning and drop than the minimuses. But then, I am a pose runner. I’ve heard how chi and evo runners don’t have to be so picky when it comes to running shoes.

TL;DR Realflexes probably won’t be right for you. If you really want them, get used to running unshod first, then go for a test run in a pair and buy them only if they don’t impact your form.

These ar the BEST running shoes I have ever owned! I have run 1000 miles on mine and they are totally wrn out so you can “SEE” really well how the wear by looking at the treads. No heal strike problems here!My wear is at the front of the toe from dragging the pavement and on the right outside of ball of my foot so I have a little bit of pronation going on. My feet move really well in these. I do not get blisters, my circulation is not cut off and I really appreciate that my foot is not squeezed and suffocated to death.If you need support…this is not the show for you! My favorite is the little cut out on the heel up by the archilles tendon. It prevents the shoes from rubbing my skin off! Awesome shoe! I just bought two more pairs because they changed the shoe after all these harse reviews. Don’t knock it till you try it!

Good grief you people are quick to pick apart this shoe well guess what I have been wearing this shoe for everything in the past three years and not only are they one of the most comfortable shoe I have ever worn but they were made to last as they show very little wear on them.

I wore these in races until the tongue fell out. I have not been able to find a better shoe, and these stopped being made a while ago.

Darn it !

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