Where did it start? Though the Nike Free is worn for running, training, casual style, and everything in between, the idea stemmed from barefoot running. Stanford University track and field coach Vin Lananna found barefoot training beneficial. He felt that it gave his athletes an edge. Nike was inspired. They wanted to create a shoe that gave the benefits of barefoot training without sacrificing the protection from traditional shoes.
Who designed it? Nike debuted the Free in 2004, but the idea was developing in 2001. Tobie Hatfield, Nike's Director of Athlete Innovations, was heavily involved in the development of the Free. After studying the behavior of the bare foot, Hatfield thought of the way ice cube trays flex. If you twist the outsole of a Nike Free, as if you are cracking the ice in an ice tray, the resemblance is apparent.
What are the benefits of wearing the Free? The outsole provides flexibility and responsiveness, without sacrificing support. In fact, runners can choose the amount of cushioning they want from the Free. The different versions of the Free provide an efficient way to transition from a traditional running shoe down to a barefoot experience.
What do the numbers mean? There is a number system associated with the Nike Free running shoe. The scale puts a traditional running shoe at 10.0, getting closer to a barefoot experience as the numbers decrease. Zero represents the bare foot. The sole gets smaller, lighter, and more flexible, but provides less cushioning, as the numbers decrease. For example, the Nike Free 3.0 would be more flexible, but less supportive than the Nike Free 5.0. Tobie Hatfield explained that the number system was for internal reference only, but he decided that athletes would find the number system useful as well.
How does it actually work? When looking at the outsole of Free running or training shoes, they appear to have a number of square and rectangular sections. Slices throughout the sole, also referred to as siping or flex grooves, create this appearance. The grid of grooves allows each small section of the outsole to easily flex in multiple directions, allowing the shoes to accommodate your feet.
High-abrasion rubber is applied to the outsole in strategic locations like the heel or near the front where runners tend to push off. This helps the outsole last longer and wear away with more consistency. Other versions of the Free, such as the Free Hyperfeel, have high-abrasion rubber applied to what Nike refers to as pistons. Turn the shoe over, and you can see the pistons arranged in a pattern that's designed to give a smooth, responsive feel during every stride.
The Nike Free sole has been paired with a number of uppers. Designed to accommodate the foot's movement, the goal has been to reduce weight and maintain breathability and flexibility. Traditional mesh uppers with supportive overlays sit atop many of the Free soles, while others feature Flyknit, a lightweight, flexible upper design.
What do we carry? To meet the demands of running and training, we carry Nike Free shoes that range anywhere from the TR training shoe, to the Free 5.0 running shoe. Also, we carry a recent addition to the Free family: the 1.0, a lightweight training shoe. The wide selection matches Nike's original goal with the Free to provide variety that fits the needs of all athletes looking for a closer-to-barefoot feel.