Nike Unveils Ninja Shoes For Yoga Class

The titans of sportswear jump onto the barefoot training fad.

It takes a special mind to notice a trend towards barefoot running and design shoes for it. Launched in 2004, the Nike Free series is a product of that thinking, seeking to combine the best of shoe-free athletics with some of the protection and enhancement that shoes can provide. (If you don’t know, there is a lot of evidence that padded shoes change our gait in a way that means heavier heel strikes while running—something that could increase the chance of leg injury. The argument of barefoot running is that we evolved to run without shoes, so shoes that change our gait are probably doing more harm than good.)

Nike Free Gym+ is the newest addition to the women’s line. Nike describes them as a shoe, but it’s perhaps better to think of it as a high-performance slipper. With the split-toe design, my years of childhood martial arts fandom make me think "this is a ninja’s slipper."

The shoes are designed to be used in a gym setting, for "dynamic yoga and other mind-body classes typically taken barefoot." They are very light, weighing in at under 5 oz. The treads are designed to give extra traction over a bare foot, along with some protection against whatever’s on your gym’s floor, while still offering close to natural movement thanks to a network of strategic grooves in the sole.

Are they effective? I don’t know. Nike is walking a fine line between embracing barefoot athletics and convincing us that we need some kind of shoe to protect our feet--thus positioning itself well in case this barefoot thing really takes off.

The Nike Free Gym is $110 and available online.

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15 Comments

  • chris

    I dont understand the Yoga shoe, I thought one of the goals of Yoga was to be "minimal".
    A good example of a giant manufacturer trying to tap into a niche and load it with non-essentials. 

  • Jeffrey Mack

    You should correct this article. This shoe is based on the Nike Air Rift which was released in 1996/97. So, to say they're just jumping into the fad now is inaccurate. It could be said that they started the fad. The Air Rift was designed to be worn by the Nike-sponsored African marathoners who were otherwise used to barefoot running. I was an original owner of the Rifts back in the day and I loved them.

  • Jamie Page

    These shoes look a lot like the Vivobarefoot Achilles 
    – If you want to do a piece on the original and best barefoot shoes get in touch with @vivobarefoot:twitter 

  • Dick Patterson

    Lets face it - this is less about creating a trend or watching a trend. Look back at the old Onituka Spiker volleyball shoes from the mid 70's - looks a lot like VIVO barefoot program. What is different now is marketing and the ability to captilize on a niche market throuigh social and virtal campaigns. This is about trying to sell more product to make make the CFO and investors happy. Why on earth would anyone not just be doing yoga in barefeet - it is supposed to be natural and holistic. The observations on the shape are also correct - this does not encoruage the spreading out and grasping that the toes are supposed to be doing. What would be intersting would be see a running version of this (send me some royalties on this idea, since Nike will probabbaly do it) - Yes there was the Rift but it's flexibility and midsole were no conducive with the minimal footwear movement. A neat looking product - probably not bad from a fucntional view but certainly not as good as being barefoot.  The best version of this 2 toed footwear can be seen on the Romulans for the Star Trek movie of a few years back.

  • Chris Chandler

    Looks like a trimmed down version of the Nike Air Rift (originally released in 1995). Ran my first marathon in a pair of those. They later caught on as a fashion trend towards 2003-2004. Not surprised they evolved the design to keep up with trend of minimalism in running/athletic shoes. 

  • emem

    I don't believe in the barefoot trend at all. If we were all living in caves and our feet were conditioned to the elements, it would make sense. But the ground we walk on is (mostly), flat and hard. 

    I'm all for running barefoot on dirt or grass provided we build up and condition our feet over time.

    I'm also concerned at the over extension of the joints and ligaments in the toes where the free-running shoes separate them.

  • ioanna

    I don't understand the point of a yoga shoe, why do feet need protection from a yoga mat? Either way, these look too narrow (especially where the other 4 toes are supposed to go) and seem to have a significant heel-toe drop. They fail on two pretty important criteria for a good minimalist shoe.

  • nell

    Sorry, I think these are goofy. I get the Vibram thing because you need protection if you're running barefoot on roads. What exactly do these protect from if you're on a yoga mat? Yoga is great because it's so simple--comfy clothes, mat, done. (Plus it feels fantastic to do all that stretching barefoot if you've spent the whole day in work shoes!) Keep your hundred bucks.

  • Rupert Evans-Harding

    I wouldn't say Nike jumped into this fad. They've been making the 'Free' line and the split-toe shape for years. They've been ahead of all the other brands on this.

  • Clint

    Ahead?  Vibram and others have been around much longer. Nike has been freaking out for years seeing that the market for support shoes that they invented a few decades ago is going away.  This is too little, too late.