You know that feeling when the perfect song comes up on your playlist and you’re instantly transported to a wonderful memory? Or magically in a better mood? The song can feel like an old friend—you know the words and the rhythm; you hit the chorus and you’re in perfect lockstep.
That’s exactly how running in the new Nike Air Zoom Tempo NEXT% felt. From the first strides to the last steps of my run, every bit felt like running to that perfect song. These shoes reminded me why I started running all those years ago—why running is fun—and it was easy to find a speedy cadence that made me feel strong and downright joyful.
Great for your tempo runs and sprint training, these sneakers are lightweight, sleek, and extra bouncy. The only downside? They’re not cheap, and like most Nikes, they’re cut pretty narrow. Let’s dive into these innovative shoes a bit more.
How I Tested the Nike Air Zoom Tempo NEXT%
I tested these shoes a number of times over the course of about a month, during those early fall weeks when the weather was basically made for long outdoor runs. Some of those runs were done by myself through Gantry State Park in Queens, New York, while others were done pushing my favorite jogging stroller, and I did one glorious longer run outside the city on a bright Sunday morning. When testing, I used the criteria for testing sneakers established by our experts.
The park in Queens is especially good for testing running sneakers because it means I traversed a number of surfaces—wooden boardwalks, granite paving stones, asphalt roads, and gravel dirt paths.
Here’s how the Nike Air Zoom Tempo NEXT% performed on each of our experts’ criteria.
Like other Nikes that I’ve tested before, these fit in a similar way. As a whole, for me, Nike runs a little small and a little narrow—these are not the running shoes to wear if you like a wide toe box. They’re snug, and the FlyKnit knit upper material more on that below) really hugs the curves and arch of the foot. I really had to pull these on, but thankfully they also seemed to stretch out just enough after the first wear, which I definitely appreciated. I typically wear a size 7.5 in Nike, and that’s what I wore in these.
One other cool feature to note: Although I didn’t test it, Nike also makes a FlyEase model of this shoe which features a “hands-free entry”—meaning you can just wiggle your feet into the shoe without pulling them on—for runners of all abilities. The same shoe also has a lace-free upper, with a loop used to tighten or loosen the shoe’s fit with one hand.
Similar to the Alphafly NEXT%, this shoe has a wild silhouette. The profile shows an elevated foam cushion heel that’s got quite a stack (though sits just a little lower than the Alphafly, but definitely higher than any of my other running shoes—even my maximalist cushioned ones from Hoka ONE ONE.) Then you’ve got a carved-out center portion and two Air pods at the front that really finish out the futuristic vibe of the shoe.
I covered the Air pods more extensively in my Alphaflty review, here, but in short: They’re two air-filled pockets that help to distribute the impact of each stride and also propel the runner forward into the next step.
One other notable aspect about the shape of the shoe is the rough outsole—which is clearly made to log miles on a road or track. Unlike the Alphafly, which has a much smoother (and softer) outsole that seems to make it clear the shoe was only made for race occasions, this shoe looks much more durable. There’s a thick layer of rubber (like most running shoes have) that shows no signs of wear even after a month of running.
If you’re a child of the 90s, you might recall a TV commercial for Moon Shoes that frequently ran between Saturday-morning cartoons. The coveted toy shoes were essentially hollow frames with elastic bands and a sandal that affixed to your foot and allowed the wearer to bounce around. (For the record, my mom said they were too dangerous, so I was only ever able to surreptitiously try these at a friend’s house.)
Anyway: That’s what these sneakers feel like. Incredibly bouncy, springy, and buoyant with the kind of energy return that propels every step forward and will keep your legs feeling fresh for miles. “Energy return” is really the name of the game with running shoe innovation these days. These are cushioned—my old lady knees felt just fine—but the standout sensation is how energized every stride became.
The upper part of the shoe is made of Nike’s proprietary material, FlyKnit, which they’ve used for years on a number of shoes. I personally like this material better than the AtomKnit that’s used on the Alphafly NEXT%. Flyknit is softer, provides more flexibility and stretch, and is just slightly warmer—meaning you can wear these shoes well into cooler temps.
As you might have gathered already, my body felt great throughout the run. One of the times I tested these shoes I actually ran 2.5 miles while pushing the stroller, then dropped the baby at home and ran another 3.1 miles on my own. I felt great the entire time, but the coolest thing? I shaved a full 15 seconds off my 5K time while running on my own. Did I push myself a bit more? Yes—but these shoes also made me feel like I could. I know nobody is racing right now, but these would be superb training shoes if speed is your goal.
The following day, my legs were a little sore, but not nearly as bad as I expected them to be after pushing my speed so much.
Nike typically offers 30-day returns on all items however during this pandemic period, they’ve extended it to 60 days. What’s more, you can try out any pair of Nike shoes for 30 days (Yes! Go for a run in them!) and if you’re just not into them, they’ll accept the return. That’s great news, especially considering the price tag on these ($200).
The Bottom Line
I’ll be wearing these shoes again and again for my shorter and speedier runs. The Tempo NEXT% are lightweight, extremely bouncy, and feel great on my feet. As with so many of these super-cool shoes from Nike, they’re also pretty expensive.
If you’re just looking for a great pair of everyday running shoes that you can also use for strength training or HIIT classes, these are not those shoes. They’ve got a fairly specific, narrow purpose. But if you’re serious about training and cutting seconds off your next PR, these kicks could help you get there.