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Vibram Five Fingers Bikila review

One, sales of the Vibram Five Fingers went through the roof. Straight from $11 to $54 million in sales [1], and Vibram struggled to keep up with the newly found demand. As on cue, other footwear brands accelerated the development of their own versions of ‘minimalist footwear’. Brooks with their ‘Pure’ series, Merrell Foot Gloves, New Balance Minimus, Adidas Adipure and so forth.

Two, many runners interpreted the essence of ‘Born to run’ as, ‘Bulky, cushioned shoes are bad. Running in thin soled footwear as it promotes natural form.’ The general mindset amidst the minimalist craze seemed to suggest that runners were doing very well before the advent of modern running shoes. But that is only the partial truth, and we have to rewind to the 1970’s and delve into the history of running footwear. How did running shoes evolve to be so bulky?

Recreational running is huge today. Most of us include running in our regular routine, and this form of physical activity has tangible benefits on our well being. But this category of exercise wasn’t always popular. Even through the 1960’s, recreational running was a rare sight in the United States. But things changed quickly. Much as ‘Born to run’ impacted the minimalist trend, Frank Shorter’s gold medal victory in the 1972 Munich Olympic marathon seems to have been the catalyst for the 70’s running boom. It led to hordes of general public taking to recreational running, and a combination of poor running technique, lack of conditioning and improper footwear led to injuries.

Shoes weren’t what they are today, and the general running populace used what was easily available then – vulcanised shoes like PF Flyers (Saucony’s ancestor), Chuck Taylors and specialized running footwear which resembled dress shoes with a few modifications. People ran in these zero drop shoes on hard surfaces, the natural consequence of which were injuries. Unlike professional athletes who ran faster and leaned towards flat or forefoot striking, recreational runners adopted what came naturally when moving up from walking – heel striking. The cocktail of heel striking, hard cushioning, asphalt and zero drop led to many instances of running injuries.

Alongside the running boom, a slew of biomechanics studies and surveys began in the late 70’s to better understand the injuries caused by running. The findings [3][4] showed that knee injuries, Achilles Tendonitis, and shin splints were the three most common injuries. The early studies focused on effects of impact forces, and seemed to suggest [4] that running shoes should be designed to counter overloading and guide the foot from heel strike to toe off to reduce over-pronation. Niggs recently points out [5] that these initial studies might have been ‘over-interpreted’ and led to a ‘few blunders’ in footwear construction.