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Interview with Art Venegas,
Head Track & Field Coach, UCLA

Article By: Joe Bailey,

Considered the premier collegiate men's and women's throwing coach in the nation, Art Venegas also has a worldwide reputation because of his coaching expertise with many world-class throwers.

Since his arrival in Westwood in 1981, Venegas has coached his athletes to 26 NCAA individual titles in the throws, a level that no other university approaches. Some of his former greats who won NCAA titles for UCLA are Godina, Sua, Dawn Dumble, Valeyta Althouse, Erik Smith, Jonathan Ogden, Tracie Millett, Eric Bergreen, John Brenner, Toni Jutjens and Greg Johnson.

Venegas-coached athletes such as Godina, Brenner, Althouse, Dumble and Suzy Powell have broken collegiate records in the shot put and discus. Brenner followed his collegiate record in the shot put (71-11) in 1984 with an American record of 73-10 in 1987. Godina has won two World championships in the shot put (1997 and '95), and earned a silver medal at the 1996 Olympics. Godina is the current collegiate record-holder in the shot put (72-2).

In the 1990s, Venegas' coaching record with his javelin throwers is reflected by two national championships and several top eight finishes. In the shot put, UCLA men's throwers have scored at the NCAA meet (indoor and outdoor) every single year since 1983. The Bruin women have scored in the top four at all but one NCAA meet.

Venegas also worked for 10 years as the throwing and weight training coach for Jackie Joyner-Kersee. He has also planned the strength training routines for many of the world's top sprinters, including Mike Marsh, Steve Lewis, Kevin Young, Quincy Watts, Gail Devers, and currently Ato Boldon and Jon Drummond.

In October 1998, Hispanic Business Magazine named Venegas one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in the U. S..

Is there a certain body type you look for when recruiting shot putters?

Shot putters, by the nature of the event have to be a little thicker or have the potential to be thicker. If they are slender, I like to see wide shoulders. As far as height 5'10 is about the minimum, the tallest would be 6'8' if they were coordinated

Do you look at marks when recruiting, and is there a minimum you that you look at, or do you look at the body type?

Even with bad coaching there is a minimum. The explosiveness required to be successful in college is a genetic gift. A kid with no coaching 56 or 57 feet is the minimum. Spinning and pretty well coached 61 or 62 is the minimum.

Any other factors you look for?

Coordination, aggression, and throwing well at the big meets like CIF, Arcadia, and State. You don't want get a guy that throws 64 feet at all the small meets, and every time he goes to the big meet he throws 55 feet.

When you get a new thrower how do you decide to have them spin or glide?

If they are already spinning I keep them spinning. If they glide, I give them a chance to spin. If they seem like they can coordinate the throw spinning I have them use the spin because it's easier to develop.

How much film do you have your throwers watch?

Not too much, because I have my own technique. I like to see them relax and do what I tell them, I don't want to have them over think. Maybe once a month or every six weeks during the raining season.

Who are your favorite shot putters to watch on film?

We watch the guys that have traditionally thrown the farthest. World and Olympic champions, past and present. I usually pick out a point or two from each guy we watch to pay attention too. Like if a guy has a good drive out of the back or really knows how to use his hips.

How important is it for throwers to watch film?

It can be, but its not totally necessary, I've had throwers throw at really high level without it. Beginning coaches that don't know much about throwing should watch film. This will help them to understand how the throw works.

With the large number of throwers how do you breakdown your workouts?

It's broken down into a two-week cycle. One week the shot putters throw Monday, Wednesday, Friday, with the discuss throwers on Tuesday and Thursday. The next week we flip flop. So people who throw both (shot and disc) will throw hard 3 or 4 days and drill on the others. I can't watch everybody all the time but they are expected to drill their technique on a daily basis.

How many throws do your shot putters throw each workout?

I look at the amount of fatigue involved but at least 30 to40 including stand throws and drills at the end of workout. Fatigue is a factor in how long I let them throw.

How do you know when they are to fatigued and reach the point of diminishing returns?

You see good form start to drop off and they lose three to four feet. Then the form really starts to drop off, even if they give me really good aggression and still lose three to four feet. You try to stop it before it gets there, sometimes after a really good series of throws I'll cut them off knowing we did good work that day. It's the opposite from Europe for many years where if you didn't take 7 to 8 thousand throws each year, it was not considered a quality-training program. I think with all the Olympic lifting, power lifting, running and body building, you need to limit the amount of pounding the body takes. Most of my throwers are throwing in multiple events, and I have to take that all into account.

What kinds of injuries are most common in shot putters?

With the jump from the 12-pound shot to the 16-pound shot, the primary injury is hand problems, you get a lot of tears in the tissue around the small bones in the hand along with ligament damage. Not as common are wrist injuries mainly from Olympic lifting. Lower back pain is also sometimes a problem, I think this is mainly the product of heavy lifting. I stress to my throwers the need to use proper technique when lifting. This limits the occurrences of lifting injuries in my throwers.

What do you do different when a shot putter has injured his hand or wrist?

The last few years, I've had them throw overweight shots real easy to work on technique, this way they don't put their hand in a bad position. It helps to strengthen the affected area without damaging it. We also have a great medical staff that treats and monitors any injuries.

Is there one lift that shot putters have to do?

If I had to pick one it would be close between the clean and the back squat, those to lifts are the most important.

With a new thrower how do you teach them to Olympic lift?

They start with light weight until they understand the lift. My older throwers help to teach them when I'm not available. Technique is so important for continued lifting growth, and to avoid injury.

Is there certain amount of weight that throwers need to lift to be successful?

I don't really look at the body weight issue. I've found over the years to be a top-level college thrower, the all-American type thrower. They need to lift 600 pounds or better back squat, about 325 to 350 power clean, 250 power snatch, and 450-pound bench. If they hit those kinds of numbers they tend to be an All-American type thrower. If they are very tall obviously the numbers will be lower because the weight has to move farther.

What kind of cross training do you have your throwers do?

Our program includes medicine ball drills, power ball drills, bounding, Running hills and stadiums. I like the fact that most of my throwers participated in other sports in high school. Some like to play basketball or racquetball in the off-season and I encourage this because it helps with agility. The important thing is that they don't injure themselves doing something they have never done before.

When looking at a possible recruit do you take into account other sports they may have played in high school?

If the kid hasn't specialized in throwing there may be a lot more potential, however the same kid may not have the discipline to stick to one sport when they get to college. I look at each kid individually. I like to have very athletic kids that won't get board training all season in one sport.

If you were a high school coach would you encourage your throwers to participate in other sports?

That's a tough question for me because there are many factors involved. If the kid needed a scholarship and he was talented I would have him throw year round. If money weren't an issue I would have him participate in other sports. He would be a better athlete that way, and have more fun. If you had a kid that plays tight end in football and forward on the basketball team and throws 59 feet, he may be hard pressed to get a scholarship. If he drops everything and trains hard in the weight room he could throw 67 feet. And have college coaches all over him.


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