Reebok RealFlex – Barefoot / Minimalist Shoe Review

Reebok‘s RealFlex running shoe marks Reebok’s initial foray into barefoot / minimalist footwear.

Evolving out of an earlier concept for “collapsible shoes“, the RealFlex isn’t a pure barefoot shoe.

RealFlex shoes Low res mens Reebok RealFlex   Barefoot / Minimalist Shoe Review

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?

Review Criteria

  • Protection – If you’re not going to develop thick natural calluses by actually running barefoot, you need to wear a shoe that will protect you from the occasional sharp stone or chunk of glass.

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.

  • Proprioception – A bare foot provides immediate feedback to the surface it rests upon. A thick spongy sole…not so much. This can be crucial when it comes to avoiding ankle sprains and wiping out while trail running.

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

  • Natural Foot Movement – Does the shoe allow or  prevent your foot from flexing & spreading in order to distribute the load uniformly over the entire foot. This analysis will address shoe width (especially the toe box), arch support, shock absorption, etc…

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.

  • Weight of the Shoe – Who wants a heavy, clunky shoe?

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.

  • The Drop – Most conventional running shoes raise the heel 22-24mm off the ground while lifting the front of the shoe only 10-15mm off the ground. This difference creates a forward leaning slope which changes your posture and leads to a heel-toe gait which leads a bunch of problems. Long story short, a flat shoe is more natural.

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.

  • Shape of the Sole – As your foot spreads, does the protective sole continue to protect your foot from physical damage?

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

  • Comfort – Do they feel good on your feet?

They are super comfortable. My “normal” running shoes felt like big, clunky shoe-boxes on my feet after wearing the RealFlexes.

  • Ease of Use – Are they easy to put on?

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.

  • Appearance – Do you look like a freak wearing them? Do you care?

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.

  • Ventilation – Vibrams are notoriously stinky shoes…what about the RealFLex?

So far so good. But then again, I don’t have stinky feet. My wife is a lucky woman.

  • Durability – Will they stand up to some pounding?

So far, so good. It’s only been a couple of months, but there is little to no wear.

  • Price - Due to my Scottish background, cost is always a factor.

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.

  • Application – Is the shoe applicable for everyday use, running, sports, yoga, weight lifting, water sports, beach sports, etc?

The RealFlex is the most unique barefoot / minimalist shoe that I will be testing.

  • It doesn’t look like other barefoot shoes
  • It looks like a “normal” running shoe
  • It doesn’t work like other barefoot shoes….
  • But, it doesn’t work like a “normal” running shoe either

So, what is it?

What the Heck Is the Reebok RealFlex?

IMHO, the Reebok RealFlex is either:

  1. A transition shoe for runner who want to transition from heel-toe running to barefoot running.
  2. A hybrid shoe that provides the best aspects of barefoot / minimalist shoes with the best aspects of heel-toe running shoes.
  3. An attempt by Reebok to capture the buzz of barefoot / minimalist shoes without scaring away the mainstream buyer who would never buy a pair of shoes with toes.

Conclusion

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.

 

Doug Robb is a personal trainer, a fitness blogger and author, a competitive athlete, a social media nerd and a student of nutrition and exercise science. Since 2008, Doug has brought his real-world experience online via his health & fitness blog, Health Habits.

24 Comments

  1. daniel

    March 17, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Been using the real flex for a few hundred miles of trail and street running they are comfortable but pick up lots of rocks and sticks along the way. I’ve had to stop several times just to pull out pebbles today n my run I picked up a stick it was sticking out the inside of the left shoe and cut my right ankle as my legs passed each other..Also been getting abrasion on my ankle from the poor design on the rear of the shoe… don’t waste your money. I’m going with the minimus next shoe.

  2. Reyner

    September 25, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Great review i have been running with the realflex for 6 months now and i have been using them for concrete and trail running for my daily runs!! i was afraid i was damaging the sole of the shoe for the trail running parts after this review and looking at the evidence has given me more confidence to go all the way with these shoes… thanks

  3. militarywife4life

    May 3, 2012 at 10:29 am

    My husband is in the Army and has to do PT tests…he also has a very flat foot.  Would these shoes work for that or not.  He gets tested on a 2 mile run that has to be under a certain time.  He also runs short distances and sprints and long distance running to train for these tests.  He needs a shoe that would help his flat foot issue, his foot is also a little wide, but not etremely, and it has to be lighter weight so it doesn’t weigh him down.  This shoe or something different?  Any suggestions?

    • frieden70

      May 3, 2012 at 3:34 pm

       @militarywife4life I have insanely flat feet too.  Literally, completely flat (it actually surprises people how flat they are).
       
      I have the shoes and they’re very comfortable for my training.  If I wear a shoe with any type of arch support it just hurts my foot w/in 30 minutes at the latest.
       
      These shoes have been great for my all around training.  Never had any pain and have been able to do exactly what I need and want in them.  Recommend them!

  4. ElisabethMattesFox

    November 17, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    Hi. Thanks for the review. I am a relatively new runner but have completed my first half marathon and am doing another in a few weeks. Additionally I have started doing the occasional 10k. My current pair of shoes do not have a lot of support and have been fine. I am inclined to try a minimal and like the looks of the Reebok RealFlex. I am having a really hard time deciding between it and something more purely minimal like the New Balance Minimus. I tried on both and the Reebok is very comfortable but actually feels like it has more differential in height from heel to toe than my current shoe (a very inexpensive Addidas). The Minimus is nice and flat but has so little cushion I could feel imperfections in the floor beneath me. I am almost sold on the RealFlex (primarily because I like the look and slightly more cushion) but am worried that since it is less flat than my current shoe that I will be taking a step in the wrong direction… ie less of of a mid-foot strike. What do you think? Sorry so long.

    • healthhabits

      November 20, 2011 at 1:26 pm

      The shoe companies won’t tell you this, but the most important factor in “barefoot” running is the change in running gait. And since we’re all used to the more familliar heel-toe running pattern, I find that the mainstream shoe producers who have jumped on the barefoot bandwagon are making hybrid shoes that still provide heel cushioning (like the reebok) . The problem with this is that it makes it easy to continue with heel-toe running.

      I found the reebok to be okay for allowing natural foot movement but the heel cushioning impeded my transformation to a mid-foot striker.

      If I was you, I would give the Minimus a try

      Also, take a look at the 100-Up running drill for help converting your running gait

  5. Marvin Weiss

    October 29, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    I run 1/2 the year barefoot in soft and hard sand. Now that colder weather is here I will be transitioning back to shoes. I just found the realflex and wanted to know your opinion of my type of transition situation?

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  7. Mary

    August 26, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    I am doing Insanity workouts that include a lot of jumping, plyo, squats, lunges, and jogging in place. Would you recommend these shoes for that? I also plan to do some running when I am done with insanity.

    Thanks for any help on this subject!

    • healthhabits

      August 29, 2011 at 5:17 am

      Yep – they would work well with your workout

      The long term downside of these shoes seem to be that the sole wears away quickly, meaning you’ll have to buy new shoes frequently.

  8. Nina

    August 14, 2011 at 10:27 am

    I’m just starting out in the world of jogging and running, so I need my first pair of running shoes. Would you recommend these shoes for a beginner like me?

    • healthhabits

      August 14, 2011 at 3:54 pm

      Hi Nina,

      I would recommend them if you are willing to learn how to “run barefoot”. Instead of landing on your heel and rolling forwards, these shoes (and others ) require you to land on your forefoot and rolling back, significantly reducing the stress on body.

  9. Ben

    August 13, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    I bought a pair of reebok RealFlex shoes and they were the most comfortable shoe i’ve ever put on. I run regularly and they have provided excellent support with every step while the long lasting mesh material keeps my feet from sweating to terribly bad, however there is a down side I have had them for about 4 months now and the “training buddies” in the front have literally been warn down to nothing and the heel section is also pretty worn out but other than the sole they have held up excellently . these shoes are amazing i would strongly recomend them to anyone athletic or not. the $90.00 price tag is well worth it enjoy!

  10. Will

    August 2, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Ok. I am going to a preschool for the air force academy and I will be doing a lot of trail running. Should I get these shoes or some asics trail running shoes?

    • healthhabits

      August 3, 2011 at 9:50 am

      Will,

      Barefoot shoes require a shift in running technique from a “heel-toe” landing pattern to a midfoot landing pattern.

      This transition can & should take some time. The forces generated shift from the shins & knees to the calves & achilles and hams to a lesser extent. Unless you have the time (and desire) required to make this transition, I would go with the asics trail runners

      Good luck at the preschool

  11. Will

    July 31, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Are these shoes good for trail running? Or are they meant for more city surfaces?

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  13. Joe

    July 14, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    How are these a minimal shoe?!

    • healthhabits

      July 14, 2011 at 1:46 pm

      How are they not?

      What makes a shoe a minimalist shoe?

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  15. Grok

    July 7, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    Great review. Seems like it might be worth trying.

    I’ve been running in Saucony’s new Hattori shoe. Uber light and more protective that VFF, but not enough miles to be sure how I feel about it yet.

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