Sunday, March 2, 2014

Gear Review: Ensō Muscle Roller

I have a serious love/hate relationship with my foam roller. Having survived a handful of bouts with dreaded iliotibial band syndrome, I can vouch for the effectiveness of a trusty foam roller in the treatment of inflammation and soreness associated with the condition. Rolling cold muscles before a run has also become part of my standard routine because it makes me feel loose and comfortable on my first step out the door. However, rolling inflamed tendons can be seriously unpleasant - even painful - and it has remained so for me from my first go until today.

This is the primary configuration with which I use the Ensō when rolling my back and hamstrings. 
Enter the Ensō Muscle Roller by EvoFit.  The Ensō is a new take on the traditional foam roller, and it takes the already versatile accessory in an entirely new direction... several new directions, actually. The Ensō differs from the field of other options primarily in that it is both segmented into individual disks and that those disks are adjustable into a number of positions on an aluminum shaft. The disks are plastic at their center and encircled by a high-density foam outer "tire." Each disk mounts snugly onto the aluminum cylindrical tube and is held in place by a spring-loaded ball detent. For those with experience in the garage, think the same kind of mechanism that a ratchet uses to hold a socket. It is pretty ingenious in its design, and I have had no problems whatsoever with the disks moving around on the shaft. They are very secure. Configuring and using the roller is simple: just set the rollers up in the position you desire and go at it. It's incredibly intuitive, and it works.

This is the configuration I use for rolling my ITB (iliotibial band). This setup focuses a great deal of pressure squarely on the tendon, but it also keeps the leg "bumpered" so it doesn't wander off-center."
Using the Ensō is much the same as using any other foam roller, but the ability to target specific areas - or avoid specific bones and tendons - is what makes it a truly incredible piece. That ability in and of itself makes the Ensō worth owning, but there are additional ways to use the Ensō that traditional rollers cannot even touch. Placing two rollers together in the center of the shaft makes it operate in much the same way as a trigger point ball. The roller can also be configured with a single or small number of single disks centered on the shaft allowing users to turn the shaft itself into dual handles (think "rolling pin"). So an Ensō roller can do the work of a standard foam roller, a trigger point ball, and other massage stick-type devices - all three. Pretty ingenious.

For all the really cool features of the Ensō, there are a few drawbacks. First, and probably most importantly, the Ensō is expensive: $89.00. That is likely to cause a lot of potential buyers to gasp, but you are getting a lot of use in one device. Another issue is that there is a bit of a learning curve to the Ensō. You aren't likely to get the most out of the Ensō without putting some time in actually using it and fooling around with the various configurations. This won't be a problem for the hardcore athletes, but the average user may be discouraged without the immediate gratification out of their new $90 purchase. The final issue I encountered with the Ensō was its overall intensity vs. what I became accustomed to with my cheapie roller. It can be super hardcore on the ol' ITB, intentionally or otherwise. As a general rule, expect the Ensō to double the amount of pressure on any given point that is targeted (completely unscientific "gut" measurement, by the way).

So, to recap, the breakdown looks like this:

Targets muscles
Super intense
Extremely adjustable
Versatile - replaces several pieces of equipment

Cost - $90!
Learning curve
Super intense

The Verdict: The Ensō is an effective - if not essential - tool in the gear bin of any serious athlete looking to pare their collection of rolling, muscular therapy, and massage devices down to one hard-working, supremely versatile device.

For more info, check out the EvoFit website. More pics below:

Down the center: If you were packing the Ensō in a travel bag, you can store your socks and some gel in the tube. I'm also fairly certain my Ka-Bar combat knife will fit in there, but don't try to get that through airport security.

Detail of the differences in depth between the individual rollers.
Detail of the aluminum "axle" tube and the adjustment radiuses.
This is the Ensō fully dismantled. The larger disks are on the right. 
The blue foam roller is a cheapie from J-fit (who?) that I picked up from Amazon for a song a few years back. I included it for a size comparison. The J-fit is 6" in diameter and 18" long.

All the Ensō roller components laid out.
The Ensō aluminum center section. Notice the notches for the various disk positions. 
Size comparison vs. 18" J-fit. 

Ensō vs. 18" cheapie foam roller.

Next up on gear reviews: I try out some HumanX gear by Harbinger and get my first double-under. Stay tuned!