Nike Air Zoom Tempo NEXT% Running Shoe Review: Nike’s Fastest Training Shoe Tested
Nike has been the dominant force in racing shoes for a couple of years, beginning with the Vaporfly 4% and then the NEXT%. Despite stiffer competition of late, Nike is still leading the pack thanks to the launch of the Alphafly.
The company is now aiming to bring the magical, speedy feel of those shoes to training runs with the Tempo NEXT%. Training shoes differ from racing shoes for good reason. A racer you pull on only for special occasions doesn’t need to be durable, or have that much grip assuming you’re racing on roads. It can also be hard on your legs because you’re going to rest in the days after a race anyway.
The Tempo NEXT% is built to tread a fine line between the two. It’s more of a partner to the Alphafly than to the Vaporflys, with a similar design to the former that includes Air Zoom pods under the forefoot resulting in a responsive, propulsive feel to your toe-off.
It has the same soft and springy ZoomX foam as both the Vaporfly and Alphafly shoes, but it also has a heel section made from React foam, which is more durable than ZoomX. This React foam also provides a more stable landing than the soft ZoomX cushioning.
The plate in the midsole is not made purely of carbon like the ones in the Vaporfly and Alphafly. A carbon composite plate is used instead to provide a less stiff, more forgiving ride than a carbon plate, which means you can rack up more miles in the Tempo NEXT% without it becoming uncomfortable.
As a result the Tempo NEXT% should be fast but far more durable than a pure racing shoe, and also be comfortable enough to run in a few times a week, rather than once every couple of months.
The upper on the shoe is made from Nike’s Flyknit material, which provides a snug fit with a bit of give in it. The Tempo NEXT% fit true to size for me, but is reasonably tight in the toe box so if you have wide feet or often find shoes run small for you it may be worth going half a size up.
I’ve used the Tempo NEXT% for several types of runs over the course of a training week, including a track session, a tempo run and a 16km long run, and its strengths and weaknesses have surprised me somewhat.
Given the size and relatively heavy weight of the shoe – it’s 277g in my size 9 UK – I wasn’t sure how it would perform with fast efforts during interval sessions on the track, but it blew me away. Every time I upped the pace it seemed to feel better and more responsive, and over the course of a session mixing 2km and 400m reps I fell in love with the shoe.
However, when I took it out for the kind of easy runs that make up the bulk of most training plans, it didn’t feel great. The large stack on the shoe started to feel clumpy and I could also hear a fair old slap on landing. I also found that my legs felt tighter than usual, especially in the hamstrings, after easy runs. There are more comfortable options for purely easy efforts, including Nike’s Pegasus 37 or the Pegasus Turbo 2.
However, on tempo and long runs, the Tempo NEXT% redeemed itself. It has the happy knack of making holding a steady or fast pace feel easier, and the more speed you put into it the bouncier the shoe feels.
The Tempo NEXT% is designed to be a fast training shoe, so not excelling at easy runs isn’t necessarily a problem. However, it does restrict its market to runners who are prepared to have a three-shoe rotation for racing, fast training and easy running.
You might consider using the Tempo NEXT% for all your fast training and your racing, but on the latter front it falls short of a lighter, all-out racing shoe like the Vaporfly or Alphafly, or indeed the Saucony Endorphin Pro or Brooks Hyperion Elite 2. Since the Tempo NEXT% is no-one’s idea of cheap at £170, you’re probably better off paying the extra for a bona fide super-shoe with a carbon plate if you want the best race-day performance.
All this means the Tempo NEXT% is worth considering only for runners who do use three shoes. There’s no doubt it is a better fast training shoe than its Nike stablemates, the Pegasus Turbo and Zoom Fly 3 – but there are terrific options from other brands in this bracket, including the Saucony Endorphin Speed, which has a nylon plate, and the Brooks Hyperion Tempo, which has no plate at all but is very light and fast.
The Hyperion Tempo is also more comfortable on easy runs, which might make it a more versatile pick for most people, and both it and the Endorphin Speed are more natural-feeling shoes. They’re also much quieter – the Tempo NEXT% is loud enough to turn heads when you run in it.
The New Balance FuelCell TC is another fast training option. It does have a carbon plate and a large stack of soft and bouncy FuelCell foam that completely avoids a harsh ride. The Tempo NEXT% is a little quicker than the TC, but the TC is more comfortable on easy runs.
You may need to consider that the men’s Tempo NEXT% has a midsole stack that’s above the 40mm World Athletics limit for road racing – the height at the heel is 42mm. (The women’s shoe is 40mm, so should be OK.)
Many amateurs won’t worry about these rules, since they’re designed for the elites, and a lot of dedicated runners will have a legal race day option like the Vaporfly anyway. But I’m sure plenty of people, myself included, would feel odd about spending £170 on a shoe that you technically shouldn’t race in.
The Tempo NEXT% does bring an Alphafly-like feel to training runs, though it’s not as fast of course, but it is faster than its size or weight would suggest. Assuming it can last at least 700-800km like most training shoes, it will be a good fast training option for keen runners, even at its high price. On the other hand, more versatile options like the Brooks Hyperion Tempo and Saucony Endorphin Speed fit the bill and, in my opinion, will probably be better suited to more runners – as well as being legal for road races.