Reebok‘s RealFlex running shoe marks Reebok’s initial foray into barefoot / minimalist footwear.
Designed for the mainstream market, the RealFlex is being promoted as being a better than barefoot shoe. Their Head of Advanced Innovation says that RealFlex combines the best aspects of barefoot/minimalist footwear with the protection of a modern running shoe.
They claim that you get all of that healthy foot movement & proprioception without all of those nasty impact forces caused by running on concrete sidewalks.
Sounds pretty convincing to me. Which is not surprising when you consider that they’re trying to sell you a pair.
How about an unbiased review?
Compared to all of the other barefoot / minimalist shoes I have been beta-testing, these shoes offered the best protection against the stones, glass and small woodland creatures I encounter while trail running. This is thanks to the RealFlex’s thicker sole & foam padding.
Compared to every pair of Nike Frees that I ever owned, the RealFlex offers much improved proprioception. Compared to the average running shoe, there’s no comparison. The RealFlex lets you feel the ground better than any other big name athletic shoe that I have ever worn.
However, when we compare to every other barefoot / minimalist shoe that I have been testing, the RealFlex is like walking in Moon Boots. The relatively thick layer of foam padding creates a noticeable barrier between your feet & the ground.
And that’s the big trade-off - Protection for Proprioception
The RealFlex offers no motion control technology. The minimalist upper lets the foot spread out against the fabric with minimal resistance. However, since it is shaped like a standard running shoe, us wide footed runners tend to spread our feet out and over the edge of the sole.
Not exactly like bare feet.
The toe box is average width. You don’t notice your toes being pinched, but compared to some barefoot shoes, there is less room to wiggle.
Regarding shock absorption, the RealFlex’s foam padding is designed to protect the runner from impact on man-made surfaces.
This is most noticeable with the RealFlex’s built up heel design. This is a major design difference between the RealFlex and other barefoot / minimalist shoe makers.
Instead of letting the runner alter their body position and center of gravity to continue running on his mid-foot while going downhill, the RealFlex provides foam protection and a high-heel stance in order to promote a heel-toe gait. Big difference.
The RealFlex is very light. Lighter than some barefoot / minimalist shoes…heavier than others. But, definitely, definitely lighter than just about every athletic shoe you will find on the wall of your neighborhood sporting goods store.
As I mentioned above, the raised heel of the RealFlex is a significant difference between it and the other barefoot/minimalist shoes on the market. Barefoot runners adapt to running downhill by shifting their center of gravity and perhaps slowing down. The Reebok RealFlex wants you to shift your gait from a midfoot strike to a heel-toe running gait when you are bombing down hills.
Major difference in philosophy.
The RealFlex is shaped like a traditional running shoe. As such, runners with wide feet will find their feet spreading out and over the width of the sole
They are super comfortable. My “normal” running shoes felt like big, clunky shoe-boxes on my feet after wearing the RealFlexes.
The reduced material in the uppers means that you can’t just shove your feet in a pair of RealFlexes without untying them or using a shoe horn. Deal with it.
The RealFlex looks like an ordinary runner. Unlike almost all of the other test shoes, you won’t look weird wearing these shoes.
Major selling point if you want to market to the mainstream.
So far so good. But then again, I don’t have stinky feet. My wife is a lucky woman.
So far, so good. It’s only been a couple of months, but there is little to no wear.
At $90, the RealFlex is cheaper than some barefoot shoes, and more expensive than others. They’re also way cheaper than most pairs of high end “normal” running shoes.
The RealFlex is the most unique barefoot / minimalist shoe that I will be testing.
So, what is it?
IMHO, the Reebok RealFlex is either:
I highly recommend the Reebok RealFlex to my clients.
I believe that a switch from heel-toe running to barefoot / midfoot running is a great thing to do for your body. However, the switch from a pair of New Balance running shoes to a pair of barefoot / minimalist slippers can be brutally painful.
The RealFlex makes that transition much, much easier.
Whether they transition from a RealFlex to a true barefoot shoe is another question altogether. Perhaps they use the RealFlex on rocky terrain or during a race. Perhaps they graduate from the RealFlex to a pure barefoot shoe. Perhaps they go all the way and ditch running shoes altogether.
Either way, the RealFlex is a good shoe. It’s not for the Barefoot / Minimalist purist. But then again, the purist is the customer Reebok is looking for. Reebok is looking for the millions who want to run without people staring at their feet.