The History of Running Sneakers

May 23, 2024

In today’s world of athletics, footwear plays a vital role in a runner’s success. Running sneakers have evolved into technologically advanced gear, equipped with features designed to optimize performance and enhance comfort: cushioned midsoles, breathable materials, or even carbon plates.  

Curious about where running sneakers originate? Let’s explore their history.  

The History of Sports Shoes 

There are specialized sneakers for most every sport, from tennis, to basketball, to cycling. However, this wasn’t always the case: in the late 1800s, a popular sports shoe called a plimsoll was worn for active activities. This shoe featured a thin, rubber sole and a canvas upper. As brands began to improve on the original design (offering thicker rubber soles or laces for more support), this shoe became commonly known as a sneaker.  

Much like the sneaker’s history, the story of Injinji begins with a desire for enhanced performance and comfort. The vision was to create a five-toe sleeve, anti-friction, seamless sock, designed to promote natural toe splay and provide unparalleled comfort during athletic endeavors. Injinji was born in 1999 and has revolutionized the way people think about running footwear.  


The Evolution of Running Sneakers 

In the 1920s, two brothers Adi and Rudolf Dassler embarked on a venture that would ultimately shape the landscape of athletic footwear. Initially centered around the creation of track and field footwear, the Dasslers’ business would later evolve into the globally renowned brands Adidas and Puma.  

Running shoe development progressed further as sprinting-specific footwear featured the addition of spikes on the bottom of the shoe’s sole, for enhanced traction. In the 1960s, as distance running began to grow in popularity, Bill Bowerman (head Track coach of the University of Oregon), sought to develop a lighter, faster shoe for his athletes. Bowerman and former student Phil Knight were the first to offer sneakers with a sponge-like, rubber midsole, offering cushioning against the impact of the road. Later, the duo would expand their business into what we know now as Nike.  

From the 1970s onwards, sports science began to have a heavy influence in the design of running sneakers, as podiatrists played a role in identifying different running gaits and suitable footwear. Running sneakers saw a greater emphasis on features to improve a runner’s comfort and performance, like a maximum-cushioned heel, or carbon plate for speed. 

Since 1999, as sneakers continue to evolve, Injinji has kept its stride, introducing various sock lines tailored to meet the diverse needs of athletes worldwide. From road running socks to trail running socks, to socks for yoga and beyond – there's a pair for every athlete.  

The Modern Running Sneaker  

Today, there is a pair of sneakers (and an Injinji sock!) catered to every runner’s needs and preferences. Some sneakers are tailored for runners who pronate or overpronate, while others are engineered to mimic the sensation of running barefoot.