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Nike Inside Access: Natural Motion and Nike Free

Think back to being a kid. It’s summer and you’re running giddily on the sand, making divots and dodging waves. Or you’re charging through dewy grass chasing the first fireflies to emerge in the waning dusk. It felt good to run free, unburdened by shoes or socks, connecting with the ground, inciting your senses with texture and temperature. That feeling, those sensory fireworks, fuel the concept of natural motion and Nike’s mission to create shoes that place an athlete closer to the ground, more in tune with one’s body and innate physical abilities.

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“It’s all about the feet — it’s not about the shoes.” — Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman

Bowerman’s fundamental belief that shoes should provide protection and traction but minimal weight and zero distraction guides the design philosophy of natural motion. This approach is seen in flexible Nike Free footwear, first introduced a decade ago to mimic the biomechanics of running barefoot. Nike Free has expanded what a shoe can do for the foot and changed he way shoes are made at Nike.


The revolution didn’t occur overnight. Nike Free stems from a succession of lightweight, close-fitting shoes starting with the Nike Cortez.


In 1972, Bowerman designed the Cortez, the first track shoe created by Nike and the first shoe with a full-length midsole made from dual-density foam. It exemplified Bowerman’s obsession with stripped-down, high-performance running footwear and influenced Nike designers approach to footwear for decades to come. “Bowerman had the idea that simpler was better,” says Tobie Hatfield, Director of Athlete Innovations and Explorations at Nike. “These shoes are still shining examples of giving an athlete exactly what they need.”

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