FREE at Last: Nike Free TR Product Review

I have 3 pair of sneakers that I usually rotate during my workouts, 3 for these reasons: The first pair is meant exclusively for running; they were chosen because of comfort and durability. they aren’t the most stylish shoes in my closet but this is where you need to focus on function over form. The second pair is usually worn when I work out outdoors. They have the same comfort as the running shoe but they are more rigid, have more grip and I really don’t care what they look like after my workouts. The third and final pair are just substitute sneakers. In order to maintain a fresh life on the other 2, I rotate the 3rd pair in and out of the weekly workouts. They have some of the qualities of each shoe so I guess these are my “utility” pair.

With all of that said, I realized that I was wearing all three of these pair of sneakers to the gym. Although I had sneakers dedicated to running and outdoor workouts, i didn’t have a pair dedicated to the gym. So it was time to go shopping. The shoe of choice is the NIKE Free TR. I have worn them for a little over a week and I’ll give you my opinion.

Concept:
NIKE’s “FREE” line incorporates a composite sole that is divided several times from toe to the heel. This allows for full extension of the foot when you take a stride. So imagine starting your stride BAREFOOTED. You push your momentum forward and your center of balance moves from your heel along the bottom of your foot all the way to your your toes as you push off of them preparing for your next step. with a typical shoe, your one-piece sole does not allow you to flex the ball of your foot; your steps are usually only felt by your heel and toe. NIKE FREE recreates barefoot strides.

Design:
As I mentioned with the sole, the entire sneaker is actually made out of composite materials. Additionally, in order to stay in line with recreating the barefoot experience, there is minimal support throughout the sneaker. Along a regular running shoe’s side, there is foam and cloth covered plastic to keep the sneaker snug against your foot. What NIKE FREE has done is remove these items and replace it with 2 structure points; one right along the outside ridge of your foot and the second on the inside by the ball of your foot. These structure points are actually pieces of composite string (Liquid Crystal Polymer Fiber) that NIKE has trademarked called VECTRAN covered by a thin flat piece of exterior material. If you look at the photos close enough, you can actually see the VECTRAN or “FIREWIRE” fibers; there are 8 on each structure point. This not only lightens the shoe considerably, but it also allows the sneaker to continue to mold to your foot from the time you tie it to taking your first step.

My Experience:
Wearing them on the street: I wore them out in the city for the first day. I was out for about half of the day and did a lot of walking. The shoes were not only comfortable, but they did get looks so they scored stylish points in my head. What I did notice early is that the FREE thing wasn’t a gimmick. Allowing my foot to roll fully from the front to the back on each step ended up working out my calve muscles and man did I feel it!

In the gym: NIKE FREE’s lasted as expected through my seated and standing exercises in the gym. The real test to me was going to be the treadmill. So in regular fashion, I first placed the treadmill on an incline of 6 and a speed of 4 and walked a hill for 10 minutes. After that I decreased the incline and sped it up to 6 mph. I must admit that on the treadmill, I felt unbalanced and felt a burn in my calve muscles that I have never experienced in the gym before. Now they say barefoot running and the subsequent products like NIKE Free are supposed to work core muscles because of your foot’s full range of motion. I obviously felt that part in being unbalanced. The calve muscle workout was unexpected, undesired and uncomfortable so I cut my run short that night.

On the Stairs: After the gym I usually run the stairs at a local school that is between my house and the gym. There are 48 stairs and I typically run them 6 times as a wind down to my workout. After this day in the gym, although my calves were on fire, I still got in my 6 roundtrip climbs. I felt like I had extra bounce on the stairs with every step which added new found energy.

OVERALL: The sneakers were a solid purchase at $85 providing a stylish, comfortable, functional gym sneaker.
CONS: May take awhile for you to get used to the new step pattern your foot will have, your calve muscles will definitely get a good workout even if you just wear them out for a casual day in the city.

PROS: The shoe is designed to give you the the feel of barefoot running/walking with the protection from outdoor elements of a traditional sneaker. No matter what foot issues you may suffer from, whether it be pronation or arch issues, barefoot running is supposed to be your best option as your body knows unconsciously how to compensate to provide a smooth, painless natural footstep and stride.

Anybody else have these or another barefoot trainer? Let me know your thoughts.

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