Reebok Fires Shots at Nike, Heats Up Old Rivalry

In the commercial for the Nano X4, the brand takes down the Nike Metcon.

Reebok making fun of the Nike Metcon series. / Via Reebok

A dormant sneaker war is heating back up. The decades-old battle between Reebok and Nike, which was front and center in the 1980s, 1990s, and even early 2000s, just saw another bullet fired after years of frozen conflict. In its new ad for its Nano X4, the 14th rendition of the shoe, Reebok pokes fun at Nike and its Metcon line.

The Nano X4, which Reebok dubs the “official shoe of fitness,” was launched today in coordination with Wodapalooza, a multi-day CrossFit competition in Miami. In an ad on Reebok’s Instagram, the brand unveils its new shoe, and then starts to add comically unnecessary technology to it. The shoe of fitness becomes the “shoe of the future” in the commercial. It springs technology similar to Nike’s Shox and Air Max from the sole. The most notable shot fired at Nike happens when the shoe materializes a rope guard system that the AI-esque voiceover calls, “something no one asked for, but we’re told is vital for elite CrossFit experience.”

The rope guard first appeared on the Nike Metcon 7 training shoe in 2021 and has been featured on the Metcon 8 and 9 models as well. It’s been very divisive. It does help with rope climbing. But rope climbing is a small part of training for most people who do CrossFit, or functional fitness in general, and it takes up a lot of real estate on the upper. It almost makes the Metcon series as of late unwearable on the streets. Most CrossFit shoes have some sort of element or stickiness to the midsole to help climb ropes, but the amount that Nike uses isn’t necessary.

The ad goes on to attach a rocket booster on the Nano X4’s heel, which can also be seen as a shot at the Metcon’s clunky rear midsole that includes a plastic piece, which is supposed to increase squat depth but makes the shoe not great for running, plyometrics, or walking around and not sounding like a horse. And the fictional shoe in the ad is finished off with an actual fan made to cool the foot down.

The commercial ends by jumping 2,000 years into the future, instead of the 20 the original mockery is based on, and a man is walking across the gym floor in unliftable metal blocks with a light-up Reebok logo on them. This could read as another reference to Nike and its auto-lacing training shoes, the Hyperadapts, from 2017. 

The rivalry between Nike and Reebok first goes back to the ‘80s when the brand’s white leather fitness shoes dominated the industry. To the ‘90s when they stole the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson away from Nike. And in the 2000s, when Nike snatched LeBron James from signing a Reebok deal.

All in all, it’s a good commercial. And the current Nano shoes are better than the current Metcons from my own experience of countless hours wearing both. Some might dismiss this as Reebok firing at the giants. But in the CrossFit space, the relationship between Nike and Reebok is much more contentious than you’d think, as the brands are more competitive in this arena than others.

In 2011, Reebok signed a 10-year deal as the official shoe of CrossFit and the title sponsor of the CrossFit Games. The Reebok Nano is the flagship CrossFit shoe across the whole space. The grandaddy of them all. Part of the clause of Reebok sponsoring CrossFit was that no other footwear brands could be worn during the Games, even if athletes were sponsored by the likes of Nike or fitness sneaker brand Inov8.

In 2015, Nike launched an ad campaign with the original Metcon sneaker in the classic black and red “Banned” Air Jordan colorway. On a billboard outside of the Games, Nike challenged Reebok with, “Don’t ban our shoe, beat our shoe.”

At that time, Nike sponsored Mat Fraser, who would go on to be a five-time CrossFit Games champion. He had to wear Reebok, but didn’t trust the fit of the shoe, so he said that he had Nike rebuild the inside of his Nanos to feel like Metcons. Reebok hasn’t been the sponsor of CrossFit since 2020, when the founder Greg Glassman made a tweet that offended many as he commented on Covid-19 and George Floyd. The current footwear sponsor this year will be Go Ruck, whose shoe was designed by Paul Litchfield, the man behind the original Reebok Pump. Small world.

With that said, Reebok sending a shot at Nike brings some fun to the fitness footwear space. And maybe it will make Nike rethink its Metcon line in future iterations. Maybe they’ll fire back at Reebok. In my opinion, they should take their own advice and just do it.