When Nike asked runners what they wanted out of their running shoes, they got very specific answers. They said they wanted better cushioning, better energy return, lightweight and the shoes had to be durable too. They wanted everything. The tricky thing is that these four qualities are incredibly difficult to deliver in one material because they are opposites.
Ernest Kim, Director of Advanced Footwear, Nike Running describes it like this. “Think about your pillow — when you’re laying your head down to go to sleep, you don’t want it to bounce back up after it hits the pillow. Instead, you want that pillow to absorb all of the force of you laying your head down so that you can get a good night’s sleep. That’s what we mean when we talk about great cushioning.” So, soft materials absorb energy.
On the upside, hard materials give the most energy return. That’s why typically foam can provide cushioning or energy return. And why it can be lightweight or durable. But usually it can’t be all of those things. Until now, that is. Nike React technology is Nike’s latest cushioning innovation and a significant breakthrough in footwear foam.
Nike React foam cushioning launched in June 2017 in basketball — a sport that requires players to shift direction and speed in seamless motion and to lift off at the blink of an eye. The foam met those needs by providing a sensation that is as soft and springy as it is squishy and stable — a balance not previously seen in any other Nike basketball shoe.
In a demonstration of Nike’s in-house manufacturing ingenuity, Nike’s chemists and mechanical engineers came together to test ingredients to see which composition would yield the perfect outcome. After more than four hundred combinations of chemistry and processing, and using scientific methods to focus in on materials with certain amenable attributes, they landed on the unique composition of Nike React foam.
They then put Nike React technology through more than 2,000 hours of testing on the feet of basketball players, where it proved to be the most durable foam delivering greater energy return than any other Nike basketball shoe tested. Because the runners expressed that they craved similar sensations, it was a no-brainer to take Nike React technology to running shoes.
With the basketball shoes, designers encased the Nike React foam in order to provide durability and stability for traction control the players needed, but with running, engineers uncaged Nike React technology to showcase its full potential for the road. When tested in the Nike Sports Research Lab against other running foams, Nike React foam delivers 13 percent more energy return than Nike’s latest generation of Nike Lunarlon foam.
“I want to emphasize this because we’re not comparing Nike React technology to some no-name foam that fell off the back of a truck somewhere; we’re comparing it to our latest Lunarlon and, even with the bar set that high, Nike React technology delivers that much more energy return with each and every stride,” says Kim.
Wondering what that feels like? Well, if you were to squeeze Nike React foam, you’d get that great cushioning sensation; and then, as you let go, you’d see the foam quickly spring back to its original shape, which is where the energy return comes into play. That translates so well to a run because as it reacts swiftly to each step, bouncing back to its original state to ensure a consistent underfoot feel stride after stride, mile after mile. Nike React technology is Nike’s longest-lasting foam, giving runners the energy to do more and go farther, ideal for even the most dedicated distance runners.
When it came time to get the foam into a shoe, designers turned to athlete data gleaned from the lab. This data was visualized through pressure maps that showed exactly which part of the athlete’s foot landed and lifted from where. “This allowed us to make rapid, data-informed decisions on how to shape midsoles and outsoles to maximize the bene ts of Nike React foam,” says Kim. They then took this a step further by feeding that data into a proprietary algorithm used to create a unique surface pattern that further increased the performance of Nike React technology in running.
Finally the athletes had to love the shoe. Elite and everyday runners tested Nike React technology through more than 27,300 arduous kilometers. “Over that span, our wear-testers consistently told us that Nike React made them want to run more often,” says Kim. “My favorite bit of feedback came from a wear-tester who said of running in the Nike Epic React: ‘It felt fun — it makes you want to run.’”
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