­Image by kikfoto

The Reebok Pumps are one of the most iconic trainer designs in history – famous for overtaking the Nike Air in the late eighties to early nineties, and for their high profile connections to the worlds of basketball, tennis and more.

While the brand itself may take its name from the rhebok (an energetic antelope native to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland), the Reebok Pump trainer does what it says on the tin. Its unique design allows you to ‘pump’ up the trainer to fit the exact size of each foot, prompting the slogan, “no two feet are alike – not even your own”. But, like a lot of great innovations, it was a fierce competition between rivals that brought about the Reebok Pump design.



Image from Wikimedia

Reebok vs. Nike: The Sneaker Battleground

In 1988, the Nike Air trainers were the design of the moment. With compressed gas in the heel for extra comfort and support, the trainers were seen by many as the ultimate fusion of science and sportswear.

Reebok set engineer, design lead and project manager, Paul Litchfield, on the case to design a customisable trainer based on an inflatable ski boot made by Ellesse. The result? One of the most hyped trainers of all-time hit the shelves.

Technology Meets Fashion: Pump Up Your Trainers

Reebok’s air bladder design was as revolutionary to sports footwear as air bags once were to cars. The design wrapped the contours of your feet with a cushioned layer of air, which could be pumped up before exercise for the perfect fit. You simply pressed the button to give your trainers as many pumps as you needed.

Initially, there were two prototypes produced: one that enabled users to pump the air in manually and another where the trainer inflated as the wearer walked around. Paul Litchfield was in favour of the design that inflated while you walked, but tests at high schools proved that inflating the trainers yourself was crucial to the appeal.


Images from Wikimedia & Firepower23

1989: The Reebok Pump Debuts

This revolutionary new trainer design debuted at a tradeshow in 1989 and attracted a lot of interest. It was a tense time as Nike, Reebok’s rival, had launched the Air Pressure – another air-chambered design.

However, where their rival fell down was in their pumping mechanism. The Nike design required a tool to pump the trainer up, but Reebok’s model had the handy ‘pump’ button.

The Reebok Pump quickly became popular and the brand attached a hefty price tag to this technology: a price that would be well over £200 in today’s money.

Advertising the Reebok Pump

Along with the Reebok Pump’s revolutionary design feature, the brand also had an impressive ad campaign behind its trainers.

One of the most memorable adverts was the daring bungee jumping commercial – a controversial ad at the time. Two men stand on the edge of a bridge, one wearing Nike trainers, the other wearing Reebok Pumps. With a bungee rope attached to their trainers, they both jump and when the bungee rope reaches its full extension, the man wearing the ‘pumped up’ and perfectly fitting Reebok trainers bounces straight back up, but the man in Nike trainers has fallen, leaving just his footwear bouncing up.

Along with claiming that your choice of footwear could be a life or death decision, the brand launched several impressive ads that weren’t quite so controversial. As their slogans demonstrate, from ‘pump up and air out’ to ‘pump it up here’, everything was designed to emphasise the brand’s exclusive ‘pump’ feature.


Reebok Pumps Become the Basketball Trainer

It wasn’t long before the Reebok Pump began to make its mark in the world of basketball, with many NBA players wearing the Pump. The shoes’ finest moment came at a 1992 annual slam dunk contest, where Reebok gained an amazing free advert for their trainers from basketball underdog, Dee Brown.

He was not expected to win the contest, but Brown wanted to get the crowd’s attention, so he pumped up his shoes, ready to go, and the crowd went wild. He went on to win the competition, and total sales for Reebok increased 26% that year.

 The Pump Makes its Mark on the Tennis Courts

The Reebok Pump was also making its mark on other sports. When Reebok replaced the basketball-shaped pump button with a tennis ball, the ultimate tennis shoe was created.

World tennis champion, Michael Chang, endorsed the trainers in a 1991 advert saying, ‘if you want to beat those rock and roll tennis guys, pump up and air out’.

The trainers achieved a reputation for being the best for speed, agility and comfort – for both star athletes and amateurs.


Image by Seo2 | Por Puro Amor Al Rap

Today: Reebok Pump and UFC

Reebok has continued to develop its footwear, combining retro styles with contemporary touches. In 2005, the brand even consulted MIT and NASA engineers on its latest designs.

In December 2014, Reebok announced its sponsorship deal with UFC, prompting fighter Ramsey Nijem to tweet “I think I need some classic pumps” and fighter Robert Whiteford to tweet “Looks like I’ll be digging the old pumps out”.

The Reebok Pump is back from the nineties and it’s better than ever. There’s now even a UFC range of Reebok sportswear too, perfect for a workout. If you want to know more about one of the fastest growing sports in the world, read our Ultimate Guide to UFC.


Image by benyupp

Here at Woodhouse, we’re excited to announce that we’ll soon be stocking Reebok. Follow us @WoodhouseTweets to be the first to know.