It almost goes without saying that with the evolution of sports, and basketball in particularly, the training element has grown exponentially. Where before getting in shape meant taking part in seemingly prehistoric activities such as running for long-distances in Converse All-Star Chuck Taylors and mundane gym exercises that ’80s babies certainly remember in elementary school, now getting in elite shape for your sport of choice often includes weight-training, plyometrics, yoga, dynamic stretching, as well as different ranges of cardiovascular exercise. The routines have changed, but the shoes have totally transformed.
With a greater emphasis placed on cross-training since Nike has gone back to re-identify with its past with the Nike Trainer 1, I decided to go for a shoe that I was fond of 2008, before the hype reached the new prototype of the old Bo Jackson shoe. I decided to acquire the Nike Trainer Dunk Low, a hybrid model of three of my favorite sneakers in the Nike Air Trainer 1, the Nike Dunk and the Nike Free Trainer.
In past years, I had endured my heavy weight-training sessions and frequent cardio (and sometimes intermural basketball games) in shoes like the Nike Air Griffey Max 2000, the Nike Air Jordan XVII (which will be reviewed in the future), as well as in the original Nike Dunk Lo itself. All of those shoes had their pros and cons, but I needed something that was flexible, supportive, lightweight, durable and without-doubt comfortable.
From an aesthetic point of view, the Trainer Dunk Low’s whole upper is largely the Dunk; the Air Trainer 1 shows up with the famed forefoot strap and high eyelet lace locks, and the entire bottom is the lovely midsole-outsole of Free-engineered Phylite (with BRS 1000 rubber outsole plugs, placed strategically in the Phylite for grip). They look really cool and seem totally new, even though the shoes that they borrow from are mainly retro, and I think it’s because of the way that the Free-Phylite bottom changes the profile somewhat, in a good way. In the black/gray-light graphite colorway, the upper is all synthetic leather, while the interior lining is a rip-stop nylon material. The Trainer Dunk is easily the most slept-on cross-trainer in the past year or so (I originally bought a premium version of the shoe in a high-top form, which has a look more akin to the Nike Air Yeezy–those are great, too).
As soon as I was able to put these on for working out, I was immediately impressed. One of the first things I noticed about the Trainer Dunk is how free I felt in the shoe, literally. The flexibility that the Free gave me in overall feel made me feel good while working out, and I felt a new confidence in the gym, to the extent that I don’t want to train again in a non-Free shoe if I don’t have to. The Phylite foam/rubber compound being so light allows me to jump up for high pull-ups with relative ease, but its denseness allows me to land without having foot shock. The support that I’m enabled with from the last of the shoe, again thanks to the Free-Phylite union, allows me lift heavy weight with either upper- or lower-body-centric exercises and it doesn’t compromise the shoe at all. My stability in holding standing positions with weights is also unparalleled in the Trainer Dunk. In short, my life in the weight room and gym in general has gotten much easier for me, thanks to the shoes (…really).
The upper of the shoe holds well, also. I find that the forefoot strap does provide a significant amount of support and while it’s not perfect, I found right away that the strap is better tightened than unused–in other words, it’s not there for vanity at all. I just found out what two consecutive holes at the top of the eyelet rows were, and that they were a Tinker Hatfield tidbit that also carries over into the running world–the lace lock, I’m speaking of, which is used for laces to go through the two holes as a means of keeping the shoelaces taut when you tie them. It helps to use the lace locks on the Trainer Dunk Low, primarily because it is a low-cut sneaker.
The downsides about this shoe is that the synthetic leather, while very durable, is unforgiving of heat generated from activity while in the shoe…which is bad. The nylon inner lining doesn’t help this, either, and for that, I remedy this issue by wearing synthetic moisture-wicking socks (which are now my preference for most socks I wear, outside of the fancy dress socks I adore and wear often). My feet are mainly fine doing this.
Another issue I’ve had is the heel slip from the shoe, and I think it comes, in part, from that same nylon lining. Tying the shoe tightly and securely helps, as well as adjusting the strap to a comfortable yet stable position across the toe bridge of your foot. The strap will prevent some of the inner front-to-back movement as well. It would be nice if the Trainer Dunk didn’t have the top overlay (where the lace locks are embedded) sewed completely down, so that you can have a little bit of extra slack and support when you tie through, like the Nike Dunk Highs.
And to make another point concerning the Free-Phylite setup, the cushioning is just great. Even though there’s no Air in the shoe, the Phylite is so resilient and supportive at the same time; it’s soft and dense, it’s like Baby Bear’s porridge–it’s just right. Though, the Free last can be a little stiff as first, a good workout and a light jog later, and the Phylite tunes to your foot and body pressure and breaks in for a custom fit right away. I’ve also had no ankle or foot issues in the Frees, so this is another great endorsement of the Free technology aiding you in your pursuits in fitness.
(Thinking to self: I can’t go back to non-Free shoes, I just can’t go back to non-Frees in the gym…)
(Special thanks to Danny D. for his help and assistance as well.)
Sandy Dover is a novelist/writer, artist and fitness enthusiast, as well as an unrepentant Prince fan (for real). You can find Sandy frequently here at SLAMonline, as well as at Associated Content and Twitter.