Question: Swimming laps is my favorite type of exercise and it has been since high school. Is it OK to use the same stroke every time? I like the American crawl.
Answer: I understand your passion for one type of exercise. I ran cross-country in high school and college, finding it more like meditation than exercise. However, when my joints started screaming for rest, I discovered that even in exercise, variety is the spice of life.
People who perform only one form of activity or one technique place themselves at increased risk for overuse injuries, which occur from repetitive movement of the same tissue. The American crawl (your particular stroke) increases your risk of rotator-cuff tendinitis in the shoulder because it increases strength in the front of the shoulder more than the back of the shoulder, causing a muscle imbalance.
Try mixing the American crawl with the backstroke if swimming is your sole exercise. Or cross-train a couple of days a week with other fitness activities (such as cycling, walking or weight training). This will give your shoulders a break.
Stephanie Oakes is the fitness correspondent for Discovery Health Channel and a health/fitness consultant. To submit a question, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. She cannot respond to every query.