The story behind the ASICS brand

A sound mind in a sound body.

It is widely accepted that regular physical activity has profound health and psychological benefits. Since the day ASICS was founded, the brand has been striving to help people live in health and happiness through sports. ASICS is an acronym of the Latin phrase ‘anima sana in corpore sano’ which translates to ‘a sound mind in a sound body’ and conveys the company’s ethos and mission – to encourage exercise as a lifestyle to promote total wellness of mind, body and spirit.

A producer of footwear, apparel and sports equipment designed for a wide range of sports, including running, basketball and volleyball, ASICS goal has always been to empower movement – and contribute to and enhance sports culture globally.

Lifting spirits in post-war Japan.

To better understand ASICS’ mission to empower movement, we have to look back in time and consider the context. Kihachiro Onitsuka created Onitsuka Co., Ltd (which later merged with GTO Co., Ltd., and Jelenk Co., Ltd. to form ASICS Corporation in 1977) shortly after World War II in 1949, at a time when the Japanese were having to rebuild their homes and their lives, following the devastating effects of the second world war. Living in post-war Japan, Onitsuka set out to raise the spirit and morale of the Japanese youth, through sport and athletics.

And for Mr Onitsuka, it all began with product development and innovation. 

ASICS is an acronym of the Latin phrase ‘anima sana in corpore sano’ which translates to ‘a sound mind in a sound body’

A history of Kaizen: continuous improvement.

Onitsuka Co., Ltd’s first big venture was to revolutionise the basketball shoe. The company set out to engineer a shoe to achieve the stopping, turning, and dashing performance required for basketball, making gradual improvements to the product in the months and years of the early 1950s. Mr Onitsuka had an epiphany at the sight of his pickled octopus salad one evening at the dinner table! It inspired the product team to deepen the dimples over the entire sole to resemble octopus suction cups. The first prototype actually generated too much stopping power, so refinements were made through rounds of testing and feedback with players at one of the leading basketball powerhouses, until they arrived at the best formula.

“Mr Onitsuka had an epiphany at the sight of his pickled octopus salad”

This was a milestone in the company’s history and testament to the Japanese Kaizen (or continuous improvement) philosophy, and modus operandi of founder Kihachiro Onitsuka.

Marathon shoes.

The company went on to pioneer countless footwear innovations for multiple sports including running, first taking on the challenge of producing marathon shoes – equipped with features required specifically for marathon running. This resulted in the release of the Marathon TABI in 1953, featuring a lightweight rubber sole and durable, breathable upper. The TABI was the first in a long series of marathon shoes.

Other early innovations included rubber sponge soles, nylon uppers and an air vent system designed to circulate air in the shoe (inspired by air-cooled motorcycle engines).

ASICS entry into the wider running shoe market.

As road running and jogging for recreation and fitness boomed in the late 1970s, ASICS released its first running shoes, aimed at the mass market. This marked a step change for ASICS and the point at which it established itself as a performance running brand.  

Then 1986 saw one of ASICS’ hallmark innovations: shock absorbing Gel™ technology. The first Gel™-based running shoe was released in ’86, using a silicone cushioning material αGEL (Alpha Gel), designed to cushion the feet from impact.

It would take pages and pages to describe every innovation and invention ASICS has made to running footwear since the brand’s inception, but the above gives you a flavour of the brand’s commitment to continuous improvement and the development of innovative materials and technologies for a specific purpose.

ASICS Research Institute of Sports Science (ISS).

The most obvious manifestation of the brand’s commitment to continuous improvement has to be the ASICS Research Institute of Sports Science, completed in 1990 in Kobe City, Japan. Built for the purpose of carrying out human-centric research and product development, through the analysis of natural human form and movement.

The ISS is equipped with an all-weather athletic track with three different types of surface, two types of tennis court, a pool, an experimental gymnasium, an environmental laboratory that allows free control of temperature and humidity, a multi-purpose laboratory, a computer network system, a product laboratory, a sports medicine laboratory, and a training room.

ASICS Research Institute of Sports Science… [was] built for the purpose of carrying out human-centric research and product development, through the analysis of natural human form and movement.

The ability to undertake rigorous product testing in sports-specific environments is key to ASICS success. Simply put, better understanding leads to better product.

2 of 8 rule.

ASICS’ live by a simple rule. With every new shoe release, at least two of the following eight features must have been improved:

  1. Cushioning
  2. Stability
  3. Flexibility
  4. Fit
  5. Grip
  6. Breathability
  7. Weight
  8. Durability

Changes and improvements in a shoe’s design, construction and technologies must be significant enough to warrant a new model, to stay true to the Kaizen philosophy and do what is right and proper for ASICS wearers. To provide an example, the latest iteration of ASICS flagship stability shoe, the Gel-Kayano 26, features improvements in these two areas:

  • Cushioning: The use of Gel™ and injection of FlyteFoam™ Propel cushioning for an improved level of bounce and more fluid feel, keeping the same high level of support.
  • Fit: A wider toe box for an improved fit.

The inspiration for the Gel-Kayano was actually a beetle. In 1993, shoe designer Toshikazu Kayano set out to create a new type of running shoe: something supportive and structured, yet nimble underfoot. Searching for inspiration, he found an unlikely muse in the humble stag beetle. He noticed how its hard exoskeleton served as protection while still allowing the beetle to be quick and light and this inspired the support structures in the iconic Gel-Kayano shoe, which over the years has delivered reliable protection, support and cushioning to runners who want to go the distance. 

Moving further, faster and beyond with ASICS running shoes.  

ASICS divide their performance running shoes into 3 categories:

  • Further: Includes neutral and stability shoes built for comfort.
  • Fast: Includes lightweight neutral and stability shoes built for speed.
  • Beyond: Includes trail shoes, to take you off the beaten path.   

At Run4It, we range several neutral and stability options from ASICS to suit every type of runner. Some feature soft, plush cushioning to take the strain off your feet and legs. While others feature firmer, more responsive cushioning, to help you push the pace. Let’s take a look at some of the key models in our current range.

Unsure what type of shoe is right for you? Take a look at our article Choosing the right running shoe: Neutral or Stability?

Gel-Nimbus 21 Neutral Soft Running Shoe

  • Weight: Men’s 300g / Women’s 255g
  • Drop: Men’s 10mm  / Women’s 13mm

The Gel-Nimbus 21 provides premium shock absorption. This neutral shoe combines supreme comfort and cushioning through its use of top-quality internal and midsole technologies, including a FlyteFoam™ top layer. A revised and roomier toe box only adds to the feeling of comfort, while the new outsole design increases ground contact and offers a super-smooth ride with every step.

Gel-Cumulus 21 Neutral Soft Running Shoe

  • Weight: Men’s 295g / Women’s 240g
  • Drop: 10mm

The new Gel-Cumulus 21 has been updated to achieve next level comfort. With an improved upper, lower density of FlyteFoam™ Propel in the midsole and new EVA sockliner, this model provides a softer feel than previous editions. The small increase in weight is offset by significant gains in comfort.

GT-2000 7 Stability Soft Running Shoe

  • Weight: Men’s 300g / Women’s 245g
  • Drop: 10mm

The Toyota GT2000 sports car inspired this ASICS model. Revered as Japan’s first supercar and highly desirable car collectible, it inspired ASICS to create a stability shoe packing high-performance features resemblant of those of the GT2000 motor car. The developers’ focused on speed first and foremost, hence the GT is formulated to be lighter than the Kayano.

Providing solid support with good shock absorption and cushioning, the GT-2000 7 running shoe is ideal for overpronators looking to run more efficiently. The Dynamic DuoMax™ support system helps to prevent overpronation, while FlyteFoam™ technology provides responsive cushioning where you need it most, guiding your feet through the gait cycle.

Gel-Kayano 26 Stability Soft Running Shoe

  • Weight: Men’s 315g / Women’s 260g
  • Drop: 10mm

The latest edition continues to offer reliable protection, support and cushioning to runners who want to go the distance. 

The Gel-Kayano 26 features a new Gel™ shape that absorbs impact in key areas and takes inspiration from the Gel-Kayano 16 (one of the most popular editions of this shoe). The injection of FlyteFoam™ Propel technology offers greater bounce and energy return, while the DuoMax™ midsole provides premium stability and protection in every step.

MetaRide Neutral Responsive Running Shoe

  • Weight: Men’s 300g / Women’s 275g
  • Drop: 0mm

ASICS latest running innovation, the MetaRide, features a zero mm drop and precision curved midsole comprising FlyteFoam™ and FlyteFoam™ Propel that is designed to reduce ankle flexion whilst offering excellent cushioning and a responsive toe-off, all with less energy expenditure than a traditional shoe. ASICS claim the MetaRide will reduce energy loss at the ankle joint by 19.1%. Built for distance, Run4It wear testers have found the MetaRide to be ideal for recreational marathon runners, looking to make that Sunday run to feel easier and kinder on the legs.

ASICS FrontRunners

To continue the legacy of Kihachiro Onitsuka and celebrate ASICS’ heritage, ASICS initiated the ‘FrontRunner’ project in 2010 to establish a global running community and bring together people from all walks of life with a common love for sports, to share their passion for running and moving their mind and their bodies. And in turn, inspire and motivate others to take up the mantle and get moving.

We created a unique and authentic community in which all ASICS FrontRunner members can share their common passion for running and moving their mind and their bodies.

ASICS

The ASICS FrontRunners team is made up of a very diverse group of people in 30 countries around the world. Young and old, beginners to elite, marathon runners, ultra runners, trail runners and triathletes – and it’s the combination of these attributes that makes the community strong and unique.

Find out more about who they are and what they do here: asics.com/gb/en-gb/frontrunner/team

The future of ASICS

News announced in a recent press conference with German triathlete, Jan Frodeno, suggests there are exciting times ahead for the future of ASICS running shoes. To gain a full insight, skip ahead and watch 8:47 onwards of the video below. Here, the back-to-back Ironman world champion and 2008 Olympic gold medallist, Frodeno, describes how ASICS has produced a shoe prototype poised to rival the Vaporfly 4%, featuring a rounded sole that takes its inspiration from a rocking chair.

Frodeno says the unique shape “gives a smooth impact and lets you roll forward really well, to carry your energy”. He will race in the shoe at the 2019 Kona Ironman World Championships, this Saturday, 12th October and we are excited to see how he gets on!

It’s an exciting time for brands in the running world, yet ultimately ASICS (like all its competitors) must work hard to evolve with athletes and runners and ensure it’s producing products honed to fit their wants and needs, in order to survive and thrive!

Sources:
“ASICS Global – The Official Corporate Website for ASICS and Its Affiliates.” ASICS, corp.asics.com/en/about_asics/history.

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