The Fittest Man in History Has New Sneakers Out

10x CrossFit Games champion Rich Froning talks about his latest Reebok Nano sneaker, how he got the brand to let him put Bible verses on his shoes, and more.

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The Reebok Froning Nano X2. Image via Reebok

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Very rarely do you spend time considering what T-shirt you’re going to wear for a Zoom interview for a story that will only appear in text form. But it’s a Monday morning and I’m pacing around my apartment contemplating which Jesus or CrossFit T-shirt I’m going to wear to interview Rich Froning, the fittest man in history, about his new Reebok Nano X2 sneaker that releases on Nov. 3.

Froning is the most important and accomplished athlete in CrossFit’s history. The 10-time champion (four times as an individual and six times as a team member) has long been the posterboy and a beacon for the training and fitness methodology and community. The man who put Cookeville, Tennessee, on the map is also a person I credit with helping me rekindle my faith and inspiring me to get into the best shape of my life. When I mention the part about faith, he tells me, “That’s awesome, that’s much more important than anything with fitness.”

Froning is on his fourth signature sneaker with Reebok, coming off of last year’s hit with the Froning Nano X1, which was easily the best edition, performance and looks wise, of the brand’s flagship fitness shoe. His Nano X2 is a departure from his previous shoe, which had a bootie-like upper that easily slipped on and off (but wouldn’t come loose in workouts). 

It’s one of the lightest training shoes I’ve ever worn, if not the lightest. It’s stable and flexible and visually appealing. And everyone at my local CrossFit affiliate thought they looked cool.

Froning’s at a crossroads in his career. He’s stepped away from competing in CrossFit’s team division after winning this past season, while still owning his gym CrossFit Mayhem, which is bigger than ever, and focusing on his Froning Farms business, which includes a working bison farm, and spending time with family. But still, Froning can’t escape the fitness bug. And his new Reebok shoe is set to be a big deal within the CrossFit community.

Here’s our conversation with Froning about his new sneaker, his plans for his athletic future, and his thoughts on CrossFit’s new leadership.

You have your new Nano shoe coming out and are you excited for that, or what’s your thoughts behind it?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s kind of weird for me still. I mean, it’s an incredible honor to have your own shoe and just to be able to work with [Reebok senior product manager] Tal [Short] on and some of the others that are behind the scenes making that happen is pretty awesome. It’s kind of surreal to think about, that I have my own shoe. Something I don’t really think about. Down the road I think my kids might think that’s kind of cool

Did you look up to athletes having their own sneakers when you were growing up?
I mean, obviously, Jordan is somebody that comes to mind, because he was at his peak when I was a kid and so obviously that’s the comparison that you go back to; he was the culmination of it. I never really thought it would be for doing fitness really fast. I was hoping it would be baseball or something, but I’ll take it. It’s been a good ride.

So the new shoe, the X2, it’s different than the X1, the last one, it doesn’t have the slip-on upper. Was there a reason behind that?
I just think we had the option from the X1, having a kind of boot fit, all-day feel. This one is more traditional than that one to make it more lightweight. The boot adds a lot of weight, so being able to deconstruct it as much as possible, make it super light and more performance-based is the idea. It has more protection around the heel to keep the foot from slipping out. I really like it. Having those two shoes to go back and forth, can’t really beat it.

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I think a lot of people said, too, when your version of the X1 came out, they thought it was better than the actual X1. Did you hear people say that?
Yeah, I mean I hear it all the time. I seem to think it. I love it. It’s by far my favorite shoe. I keep trying to tell them to find more 10.5s to send me. I’m usually at 10.5, and then I took the insole out and wear a 10. I took the insole out, so I’m a little bit lower to the ground in the X1. So I just feel better that way and I like it.

You’re OK with training with the insole out of the shoe, that’s not an issue?
Yeah, yeah. I like to be a little bit lower to the ground, a little less material between me and the ground. I’ve always liked that, just the way it feels. Feels good on my feet that way. With the X2, though, I leave the insole in, it’s already kind of deconstructed and a lot less material anyway, so it’s way lighter that way.

I remember hearing you say that the reason why you had the slip-on shoe at first is because you don’t like to have your shoes tied in general.
Yeah, yeah. That slip-on, it was just kind of nice. You just slide it on, you didn’t really have to worry about cranking it down until it’s time to work it out. So it was nice. But it is good to get back to the more traditional style shoe with this next one.

When you’re doing your own edition of the shoe, what’s the process with you working with Reebok on that?
I mean, the cool part is like Tal Short, who designs a lot of the shoes, he knows what I like. We have a ton in common. We’re both Notre Dame fans. This one he paid a little tribute to my grandpa who worked for GM for 41 years. Me and him have a Corvette that we share and it’s red with black wheels. I think that was where the inspiration with the black and red came in. And like I said, Tal, the last shoe had a little Notre Dame homage to it. I think with Tal it’s super easy. He is like, “Hey, I’ve got some ideas.” Put some on paper. I’m like, “Yup, sounds good.” Then he makes the shoe and makes it happen and it’s always a good process. Like I said, Tal, we’ve had some incredible time over the last couple years. I mean, heck, it’s been 12 years that I’ve been working with Reebok, so they have an idea of what I like.

There’s been stories in the past with LeBron where Nike didn’t get the fit of the shoe right and then he can’t play in it. Are you ever worried that when they send the model to you and there’s going to be something slightly off with it and you’re going to have to rework it to your own liking?
No, usually, for the most part, I’ll get it on my feet pretty early, so we’re early enough in the process that we can make that happen, but we’ve never really had that problem. Luckily, like I said, having worked with Tal and all their shoes that Reebok puts out over the last five or six years have been incredible and no real problems. So I’m not really worried. I mean in the back of your mind it’s what you’re worried about, but it never really happens. So it’s been good.

You said the Notre Dame connection. I know on the X1 you had two Notre Dame colorways on it. Are there any plans for that?
Yeah, I think there’ll be two launch colorways. Like I said, one is, it kind of goes back to the Nano 4 that I used to wear all the time, that black and red, but also a little bit of that Corvette feel to it. And then one’s a little bit of an America tribute. We’re pretty proud to be living where we’re living, so should be a US version of it coming out as well.

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You mentioned, too, you want to find more pairs in your size. I think it’s interesting because someone who’s—you being the top CrossFit guy and obviously the top CrossFit guy at Reebok—you’d feel like you’d have an infinite pair of shoes, but it looks like from all the Mayhem videos that you tend to wear your shoes into the ground before going to the next pair.
Yep. I think that’s just part of my upbringing. My mom and dad were kind of like, you’re not getting a new pair of shoes until the ones that are on your feet are basically falling apart. So I think it’s part of that. When I was a kid, my parents would not buy me anything name brand. We got a lot of… I don’t even know if Payless shoes were around, but when I was a kid you’d only get something from Payless, and I didn’t have anything name brand until I could buy it myself. I blame my parents for that. Me looking like crap in videos and stuff, or the shoes.

Do you pass those same values over to your children?
My kids can’t keep up with shoes. I feel like we have all the left foot, we never find the right foot, but yeah, no, my kids, they’re hard on stuff. That’s one thing that I’ve passed on I think to my son especially. But also my girls, they’re just wide open. They don’t really care about stuff. Like I said, we can’t even hang onto a pair of shoes. So [my wife] Hillary does a lot of shopping at Goodwill for kids’ shoes because they’re going to wear them out anyway.

When you go to semifinals and stuff like that, you’ll see a lot of Mayhem T-shirts, but I think also in the CrossFit Games, you’ll see other athletes wearing your sneakers, like the Froning edition. When you see someone you’re competing against wearing your own shoe, does that give you a one-up? I know Kobe had said in the past when he saw someone wearing his sneakers, he felt like he could beat them because of that.
Yeah, no, I mean it’s cool that CrossFit’s super supportive. It’s awesome to see people that enjoy or like something that we’ve designed together with Reebok and there’s been multiple times where, especially at semifinals or something like that, you just see people wearing Mayhem shorts on the floor next to you. It kind of gives you a chuckle for a second. You’re like, “Wow, that’s kind of cool.” It’s such a long, long road. It’s cool to see those things come to fruition.

One of the details you’ve had on a couple of your shoes, especially on the X1, was Galatians 6:14 [May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world]. I couldn’t find it on the new shoe. Is it not on the new shoe?
I don’t know, I need to ask Tal about that. Because on the last one he tries to, not hide it, but make it subtle that it’s there. So I need to actually find out where it’s at on this new one and ask him.

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Is that something that you have to have a push and pull with at Reebok, or they’re just totally supportive of you putting your faith on it?
No. A little bit early on with some of the different leadership, but with the last couple years there’s been no push and pull. It’s just kind of been understood and, like I said, Tal shares a lot of the same values that I do as well. So maybe he’s pushing behind the scenes, and I don’t know about it, but I haven’t had any problems.

On the new shoe, I think on the last one you had it as well, but you have Cookeville on the insole. Is that cool just to see that on a shoe?
I think it’s cool. It’s home. It’s always been home, and so I think it’s awesome. I love that it’s on there and a lot of people never heard of Cookeville, Tennessee, so maybe they’ll Google it, check it out.

I know you said that you’re done with team competition, but everyone’s speculating that you’re going to go Masters. Is that something you’re ready to talk about?
Yeah, I mean right now I’ve got a lame shoulder, trying to figure out what’s going to go on with that, rehabbing it right now, making sure surgery isn’t something I’m going to have to do. And then once I figure out that, then I think every year it’ll be kind of play it by ear. Some years I might be out there in Masters and some years I might not. Kind of just depends on family, on kids, and that type of thing. So no concrete plans at the moment. Like I said, health right now is the biggest thing and making sure I’m ready to go for next year and can just do things that I want to do outside of CrossFit.

So that’s the most important thing right now is getting healthy. But I don’t want to rule out that, hey, I might be there this year, I might be there next year, I might wait till I’m 40 and then start. So we’ll see. I’ll always be around, we’ve got a bunch of athletes here and people that we want to support as well. So I’m most likely going to be working out with them. So if I feel like I’m fit and feel like I can add to the competition that I’ll be there. If I feel like I’m going to get my butt kicked, I probably won’t show up.

I know you guys have the shop at the affiliate, are there people that line up the day that the shoes will come out?
Yeah, I feel like that’s kind of a thing of the past. I think people buy online, it’s just so much easier. You put in for it and get it most of the time. The quantities that they put out and run, you can get them no problem.

And there’s been a lot of changes at CrossFit recently with Don Faul coming on as the new CEO. Are you excited about that?
Yeah, he seems like he’s got a good resume, seems like a good dude. I haven’t actually talked to him. Well, in person. We’ve texted back and forth a couple times about meetings, just never connected the dots yet. So seems like anybody that I know on the inside is pretty fired up about it. So yeah, I’m looking forward to it.

And do you, in the back of your mind at all, hope that because Reebok being the title sponsor across it for so long, that that will one day be a connection again?
Yeah, I mean you always want people that you work with on different levels to have, I guess some commonality there. So I think it’d be to our advantage, but I understand why not on both sides, it’s got to be mutually beneficial. And at the time neither party felt like it was mutually beneficial. So yeah, I think it could be good and it’s not necessarily a bad thing that they aren’t working so closely together, but Reebok has, I felt, maintained an emphasis and kind of staying true to their word, that they would support CrossFit, support CrossFit athletes. I think that’s really what matters, honestly.

I know you don’t have to wear the shoes, but I had seen there was a clip going around where you had just said that NOBULL shoes suck.
Yeah, I got comments about that one. But yeah, I just mean looks or whatever, but I just had never had a great feeling NOBULL shoe in my opinion as far as the trainer goes. So I think Reebok’s pretty far ahead of the game when it comes to shoes