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Nice work focusing on your drills! This is the best way to find efficiency and speed with your stroke.
The zipper drill, like the finger trip drag drill, helps you with the recovery portion of your stroke. By “zipping” your hand up close to your body, you create a high elbow while keeping your hand close to your body (versus swinging your arm wide). The ‘zipping’ should literally touch your body, hips to right below your arm pit.
The fingertip drag drill is used to keep your elbows high, which helps you increase speed and efficiency. This drill forces your elbows to come high out of the water by not allowing your fingers to come out of the water, mostly preventing them from moving to the side.
Barb Lindquist, stated in The Woman Triathlete, “if you are a swinger who struggles with shoulder roll, this drill is for you. A swinger is someone whose arms are wide from her body on the recovery. Unfortunately it is impossible to get a good shoulder roll if you have a low elbow recovery. The fingertip drag drill involves simply dragging your fingertips along the surface of the water when they are in the recovery phase. This forces a high elbow recovery. You can still cheat on this drill by dragging your fingertips on the surface of the water wide from your body. To eliminate this temptation, use the zipper drill.
This drill has the same purpose as the fingertip drag drill, but on the recovery you rub your thumb up your side to the armpit- “zipping up” – your side. On both drills you will notice that you are getting a fantastic body roll because of the high elbow created.”
Another option to consider is the back-of-the-hand drag (instead of the finger trip drag) as it’s harder to cheat. This could be a stepping stone if you are struggling to achieve the zipper drill with good form. Great question!