The to call the Reebok Realflex a minimalist running shoe, or to say it emulates barefoot running is a real stretch. Much like the Nike Free, the Reebok Realflex is more flexible, more lightweight, and includes fewer support features than the average running shoe, but the toe-to-heel differential alone keeps shoes such as the Reebok Realflex as well as the Nike Free is a slightly different catagory than the most minimalist shoes such as Vibram Five Fingers, Merrel Trail Glove, and the Altra Adam.
The Reebok Realflex, as well as its older brother the Nike Free, are what I like to refer to as “reduced shoes.” That is to say, they have some but not all features of minimalist running shoes. In the case of the Reebok Realflex what is missing is a Zero-Drop heel-to-toe differential, as well as a true ground feel.
What is Zero Drop?
The heel-to-toe differential is the difference in the height of the forefoot of a shoe and the height of the heel of the shoe. In a zero drop shoe this differential is zero. Over the years, running shoes have accumulated more and more heel padding to soften the blow of a heel strike. Though this did make running on your heels more comfortable, it detracted from a natural forefoot stride (notice when running barefoot your heel is not elevated more than your forefoot.) The most minimalist of running shoes have removed the heel to bring it down to the level of the forefoot. Other reduced natural running shoes such as Newtons, or the original Altra, instead of lowering the heel all the way, instead the forefoot was raised to create zero drop heel-to-toe differential.
Because the Reebok Realflex, like the Nike Free, has done nothing to alleviate the heel-to-toe differential I would not classify either as a minimalist or barefoot shoe, but the increased flexibility, and reduced weights show a marked improvement on Reebok’s previous line of shoes.
Reebok is marketing the shoe as adding an elevated heel as an improvement on true minimalist shoes, as this cushioned heel will make heel striking more comfortable. As a natural runner however, I am not as interested in comforting my heel strikes as I am in ensuring I don’t heel strike in the first place. and, let’s face it they did not improve upon a minimalist shoe by adding a heel, Reebok and Nike have both improved upon all their other shoes by making them flexible and lightweight.
Here is the Reebok Realflex promo video, if you are in marketing and enjoy running, after viewing this video I am confident a marketing position will be opening up soon at Reebok.
Notice the heel striking even in the promotional video.