How Did Reebok Approach the Design and Build of its NANO X4 Training Shoe?

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With Reebok launching its latest NANO footwear in the form of the X4, those who have worn previous iterations of the popular training shoe will wonder how the latest product on the shelf differs from prior versions. Fortunately, M&F sat down once again with Reebok’s director of training, Tal Short. As a designer and marketing professional, and a long-time fixture at Reebok, Short has seen both the fashion and the builds behind multiple generations of shoe-lines. We asked him about the challenges of creating a multi-discipline training sneaker, how the brand goes about improving its shoes from version to version, and what we can expect from the NANO X4 and beyond.

Athletic man performing box jumps while wearing Reebok Nano X4 sneakers
Courtesy of Reebok

How do you try to satisfy the range of activities that athletes might undertake in NANOs such as CrossFit, hardcore weightlifting, and running?

“It’s definitely a challenge, right,” says Short. “You’re not going to make the best training shoe in the world and the best running shoe in the world, those are two different needs … you need a soft cushion when you’re on a running shoe, and obviously, when you’re doing strength training or CrossFit, a lower profile and more stable shoe. We’ve got this lift and run technology in the Nano that we feel really strongly about where it’s kind of an adaptable system. If you are lifting heavy, the dome in the back flattens out to keeps you nice and stable. Then you’ve got the Floatride Energy Foam in there, and it makes it feel more cushioned a little bit more runnable. If you’re going just for a long run, obviously, most people should wear a running shoe, but if running (under around 3 miles / 5 kilometers) is a part of your workouts, we want it to be an enjoyable part.”

Reebok NANO X4 sneaker
Courtesy of Reebok

How did Reebok go about trying to make the X4s the best NANO yet?

“It was collection of data. We took all the feedback from reviews,” explains Short. “You know, we focus on the negatives, we also look at the positives and what we don’t want to mess with, right? What did people really like about the X3? For the X4, all the feedback we got indicated people weren’t asking for a wholesale change of the shoe. They weren’t saying; ‘This shoe is off the mark.’ The X3 was one of our most popular and one of our best-selling. So, it’s always tough to kind of come back after that but I do think the X4 is a truly an upgrade and I’m not just saying that to sell shoes.

“I truly believe I’ve worn the X4, probably, more than anyone in the world and I tell you, it is one of my favorite NANOs of all time. There’s just something about the fit and feel that we really focused on; wearability and then the warmth of the shoes. We’ve been seeing a trend where after people have done a very intense workout, they rip their shoes right off afterwards and we did some studies around like; ‘Why do we get that warm during workouts? And what causes that? How can we help?’ So, we did add to the upper for a little bit more ventilation, to let some airflow get in there. We were able to knit that into our upper which was a really cool technology for us. That took a lot of time to get right. Then, just the overall weight. We wanted the X4 to be a nice weight. You don’t want it too lightweight, where people don’t feel stable, but you also don’t want it super-heavy either. So, it’s finding that balance. I do think the X4 feels a little lighter on foot than the X3. So, we’re always collecting that data and we encourage people to leave comments because we read them all and really consider them, as we’ve obviously got to make decisions around what we want to update versus what we don’t.”

How does the overall build of the Reebok NANO X4 compare to the X3?

“We took a total dissection of the X3 and decided where we could strip out some things,” says Short. “We did not sacrifice any sort of durability. We know a training shoe has to be durable. That’s something that we take pride in, right? Durability and stability — we didn’t mess with those two things, but we made sure that everything is on there for a reason, not just because we had it in the last few iterations.

“We brought the heel clip down from a visual standpoint and it actually helped improve performance as well, so it wasn’t just a visual thing. Stability is number one and second is durability. We just we know that people’s shoes take a beating, even things like air squats, or getting in and out of rowers, training shoes take a beating and that’s a good thing. That’s why we use the Flexweave upper that we’ve used on the last several NANOS because it’s just a perfect technology; lightweight, breathable, flexible, and durable, all in one. That’s why we haven’t changed it, we just keep evolving it and improving it.

“A bigger ask lately is just making sure that the shoe looks great in and out of the gym, people are looking for a shoe that they can wear beyond the gym, to run errands afterwards, without feeling like they have this big piece of equipment on their feet, so that the shoe just fits with their outfit.”

Reebok Nano X4 sneakers collection
Courtesy of Reebok

What does the future hold for the appearance of the Reebok X4’s and beyond?

“it’s fun, right?’ says Short. “We have a full color team and we know the trends. We do have our traditional colorways, we’re always going to have a black and white shoe as we know those are very popular within the NANO franchise, but for us, it’s about telling stories through colors and the good news of NANO is that we pretty much have the ability to hit every taste of the consumer, so we’re not just stuck. There’s a lot of places to add color, especially with the ventilation panels. The idea is we want to make sure that the canvas of the NANO X4 and the Nano (in general) allows us to really play. We’ve seen an increase in bright-color shoes, like all-over one-color brights and so you’ll see some of that moving forward as well. The good news is we’ll have something for everyone because we know it’s hard to really nail it with just one colorway because everyone’s very particular on their shoe colors.”

The Reebok NANO X4 is available now at Reebok.com and all good shoe retailers priced at $140.

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