In the summer of 2015—10 years after Reebok signed a landmark deal to become the official athletic brand of CrossFit Inc.—Nike announced that its own competing cross-training sneaker, the Nike Metcon, had been officially banned from the sport’s flagship CrossFit Games competition.
CrossFit had developed a reputation for litigiousness, and sneaker brands other than Reebok had to be careful to avoid references to the sport of CrossFit in marketing their own cross-training shoes—some sneaker blogs had even reported being threatened with legal action for suggesting that other, non-Reebok cross-training shoes might reasonably be worn during CrossFit workouts. But this was the first time that CrossFit Inc. had taken the step of actively barring its athletes from wearing a competitor’s footwear during the Games, which meant that even Nike-sponsored athletes were not allowed to wear Metcons for the competition.
Nike’s response was characteristically cheeky. They created a new colorway for the Metcon inspired by the original Air Jordan 1, which had been infamously banned by the NBA for failing to meet the league’s standards around acceptable proportions of color in the shoe’s design. The “Banned” Metcon 1, in black and red, was advertised on an enormous billboard right outside the arena in Carson, California where the Games were taking place. It featured an unforgettable tagline in huge capital letters: “Don’t Ban Our Shoe. Beat Our Shoe.”
A lot has changed since then. To begin with, Reebok dissolved its long-running partnership with CrossFit in the summer of 2020, after CrossFit’s founder and CEO Greg Glassman was roundly criticized for his remarks about COVID-19 and the death of George Floyd on social media. After Glassman removed himself from the company, CrossFit began a new partnership with the upstart Boston-based athletic brand and sportswear manufacturer NoBull, which became the title sponsor of the CrossFit Games in 2021. That deal elapsed at the end of the last Games season in 2023, and CrossFit recently announced yet another new partnership with “rucking and tactical training” brand GORUCK.
The dissolution of the Reebok deal has essentially created a power vacuum in the cross-training shoe space, with no one brand having stepped in to become the sport’s go-to sneaker.
A mess of different players are all vying for a piece of the pie. There is the Nike Metcon, which recently introduced its latest model, the robust and technically advanced Metcon 9. There’s NoBull’s simple, stripped-down fabric Trainer, which has proved popular with some recent high-ranking Games athletes. There’s the R.A.D. One, created by a former CrossFit gym owner and Games athlete, which is making waves on the scene. And there’s the new Reebok Nano X4, which still has a legacy connection to the sport, even if it’s no longer officially CrossFit affiliated.
Part of the problem is the breadth and complexity of the sport itself. CrossFit is “constantly varied high-intensity functional fitness,” and involves a combination of Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, powerlifting, running, rowing, cycling, and more. A good CrossFit sneaker needs to be light and springy enough to help you bounce up from a burpee into a 30” box jump, while also flat and sturdy enough to get deep into a wall ball shot or a 400-pound back squat. It needs to be thin enough to feel contact with the floor in a heavy deadlift, but soft and pliable enough to give you some cushion during 5K runs.