The Nano (r)Evolution
The Reebok Nano series did not only revolutionize the world of fitness footwear, it birthed a completely new category.
Reebok has a strong history in innovative fitness footwear. Iconic models such as the Freestyle, Ex-O-Fit, and Workout were a common sight in gyms and studios in the 80s, its range of Cross Trainer and Step footwear ruled the 90s, and in the 2010s the introduction of Nano birthed a brand new category in fitness footwear, creating the first official shoe for the up and coming competitive fitness movement.
When Reebok started working on the first Nano shoe around 2010, competitive fitness was a fringe movement, which had a different take on traditional fitness exercises. Using a mix of signature workouts and functional movements, competitive fitness challenged people with a daily changing range of activities and challenges. It was a mix of exercises, ranging from weightlifting, rope climbing, and burpees to running, kettlebell swings, or rowing. Such an ever-changing training regimen needed a highly functional shoe that could perform well no matter what the workout was. At the time, athletes worked out in running shoes, basketball shoes, and even casual sneakers. Reebok decided it was time to give the community what they needed, a shoe that could help them excel in every category.
It was clear from the start that such versatility could not be designed from a distance. Reebok invited many competitive fitness pioneers and athletes into their office to learn about what mattered most to them in a shoe. Every new feature would be thoroughly tested by members of the community, to make sure that the shoe could withstand every aspect of a workout. Tal Short was one of the original wear testers for the Nano. He currently works a Senior Product Manager for Reebok’s fitness footwear and has worked on many iterations of the shoe. “At the time, no one had even thought about a shoe like that. We wore whatever we had, we just knew we needed a flat sole. We didn’t know how bad our shoes were for our workout until we had the Nano. I don’t think we realized at the time we were creating a whole new category. “
Austin Malleolo is a longtime competitive fitness coach and General Manager of Reebok's gym in Boston. “I started in 2008. I was wearing flat soled shoes, as that was what we thought was most important at the time. There was a Reebok Classic shoe with a flat bottom that we worked out in before Nano.”
As Malleolo coached at the gym at Reebok’s headquarters, he became an integral part of the development of the Nano. “At the beginning I was part of every meeting, as a resource. That was really overwhelming. I was just a kid that was a coach, and all these people way above my paygrade were asking me all these questions. My favorite Nano memory is seeing the first sketch of the Nano 1.0, before it was ever made. It literally gives me goosebumps when I think about it. I remember the first test pair I had - they were red - and didn’t have the harder rubber on the side. I did one rope climb descent and blew right through ‘em. And ever since that’s one of the key elements in the Nano’s DNA, the rope guard.”
After various samples, some of which included Reebok’s ZigTech and RealFlex technologies, the Nano 1.0 made its first public appearance in competition in 2011. Enthusiasts from around the globe were buzzing about trying on this brand new product. Reebok launched the first 1000 pairs of the Nano in November of 2011 through its website, and the initial run sold through in a flash.
Dan Hobson, Reebok’s VP of Innovation, has worked on the Nano from the start. “What hooked me into competitive fitness was the coaching, the comradery. We brought all these kids in, and they’re telling you about their lives. You become emotionally invested. If you don’t make a great product, all these people that you met through this are going to suffer. It puts pressure on you; you want to create a great product.“
The success for the first Nano did not mean Reebok could rest on its laurels. The team continued to work on making the Nano even better, which resulted in new yearly updated iterations. “The problems that a shoe like this needs to solve don’t change, but the solutions and technologies give you new ways to solve those problems.” says Hobson. “Our Nano’s changed a lot visually, and we like to try new things, and that really goes with the mentality of competitive fitness: Always try to improve, always try to be better, don’t be afraid to fail, and check your ego at the door. A lot of those same philosophies we try to take into the Nano.”
Alongside the introduction of the Nano, competitive fitness exploded with adherents opening new gym location in cities and towns all over the world. “The Nano changed what competitive fitness meant to a lot of people because it legitimized it,” Malleolo explains. “We now have this big brand creating a shoe for something that, at the time, was considered to be for only a small group of people. It empowered gym owners, it empowered coaches. The reputation at the time was that it wasn’t for everybody, but this opened the floodgates. If a brand this big makes a shoe for it, people consider it more accessible. Reebok were the pioneers, and it was a risk, and that was what it was all about at the time. “
As fitness continued to evolve, so did the Nano. Feedback from the community inspired the team to make the shoe more comfortable, flexible and breathable throughout its lifespan, while never forgoing the features that made previous iterations great. After nearly a decade, the Nano is still the shoe of choice in gyms around the globe. Short says, “It’s a symbol. When I would travel and I’d see someone wearing a Nano, I immediately knew they were a part of the same community, and you just spark a conversation. It’s one of the key symbols within competitive fitness.“
As we approach the exciting launch of the 10th Nano, the Nano X, it looks like a lot has changed. But the core values from the first Nano have remained the same for every edition: the best possible shoe for the community, by the community.