Zipper Drill

The arm recovery an important part of the stroke, as the way the arm moves out of the water often reflects what happens to the hand at entry and the way in which the arm moves through the water. 

Imagine you are swimming down the middle of a railway track with your hand running along each rail.

You to need to start by thinking about tracking the arms parallel to the body – imagine you are in the middle of railway tracks and your arms have to stay on each track!

As part of this drill you need to have a high elbow, by doing this it enhances and encourages your body rotation  but also it reduces frontal drag component by lifting your shoulders up higher out of the water. 

In order to do this we did the following drills

Stage 1.

Zipper Drill - have your fingers running alongside your body (undo a zip), use the side of your body as a physical cue. Start by doing 1 arm at a time while the other hand is placed on the centre of a kick board at the front of the body.  


Stage 2.

Zipper Drill + 45deg arm entry  - same drill but with a focus on arm placement at entry at 45degree from your shoulder. The key here is to keep your elbow up as you come into an entry position. It's best to start alternating arms by following a 'Catch Up' style of swimming so you are not rushing through each stroke. 

Stage 3.

Once you have completed this drill consistently alternating arms apply this drill to your swimming. Complete this by swimming 6-12 strokes zipper drill and then swimming the rest of the length.

As you apply this drill think about it this way - Finish the stroke at the end then lift the elbow up (imagine your hand and forearm falling in a relaxed way below & behind the elbow). Don’t force the movement forward using the hand this tends to lower the arm position through the arm recovery instead roll your shoulder by lifting the elbow over. 


  • Consider how your elbow moves or directs your forearm and hand “ELBOW TO THE SKY NOT TO THE SIDE” ie. Elbow across your back to the side of the pool. 
  • Keep think about just the 45deg arm placement at entry and keeping the elbow up.
  • Your elbow leads the first part of the recovery through to the shoulder and then the hand and forearm lead to the entry position - but the elbow must stay high as the hand and forearm takes the lead. 
  • Keep the wrist facing the end of the pool throughout the recovery - finger tips pointing down to the water.

Common Faults

I often see people achieve a good arm recovery with their elbow leading the recovery through to their shoulder but after the shoulder the elbow drops and this tends to create a poor entry position.

  1. Front of the shoulder dis-engaged ready for the catch
  2. Elbow down at entry
  3. With elbow down their is often a cross over at the front of the stroke ie. hand entry across the centre line of the body

Progression of Zipper Drill

  1. Touch Under the Arm Drill
  2. Straight Arm Recovery - alternative option
  3. Finger Trickle Drill 

Each of these drills are useful for the recovery and Boost Coaching utilises these in different ways depending on a individuals stroke type! 

Further Reading

Take a look at these links to start off with – most importantly the shoulder injury link – this helps to give you a good understanding of the arm recovery set up!

        Core and Posture:

        Rhythm and Timing:

        Shoulder Injury: