Pure Strength Vol. 3: Back, Biceps, Abs

Cathe Friedrich
Year Released: 1999

Categories: Upper Body Strength

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This is old & plenty enough reviews, but I'm turning a new leaf to try to review workouts as I do them. So, since there's no breakdown & I'd already done that job, here it is:
(3:48) Warmup
(34:04) Workout
_____(12:14) Back
__________(3:27) Row, Standing:Bent-Over, Barbell:T-Bar (straddle barbell, rear end on floor)
_______________ Warmup set
_______________3 sets, heavy
__________(2:34) Row, Standing:Bent-Over, Barbell
_______________Underhand Grip
_______________Overhand Grip
_______________Underhand Grip
__________(3:42) Row, Standing:Bent-Over, 1-Arm, Dumbbell, 3 sets
__________(2:31) Shrug, Standing, Dumbbells, 2 sets
_____(11:31) Biceps
__________(2:25) Bicep Curl, Standing, Barbell
__________(2:29) Bicep Curl, Seated, Dumbbells, Alternating, 1 set hammer, 1 set twisted
__________(3:00) Bicep Curl, Standing, Barbell, straight up, slow down, 2 sets (she calls them negative)
__________(3:37) Bicep Curl, Concentration, Seated, 1-Arm, Dumbbell, 2 sets
_____(10:19) Abs/Lower Back (crunches, twisted crunches, reverse crunches, ... supermans)
(4:20) Stretch

Instructor Comments:
Professional, as usual.



There are already quite a few reviews of this video, but I thought I'd add mine after trying it (on loan from the library). Believe it or not, this is my FIRST Cathe strength video; I've done only her Kick Punch Crunch in the past. Given the level detail that Wendy and others have already provided, I'll focus on my impressions.

I liked the warm-up, which I clocked at just under 4 minutes. Cathe uses basic arm/leg movement combinations to get you warm, but at the end, she says that's enough since we won't be doing any lower body; she doesn't do any stretching here. The back work comes first, starting with heavy barbell rows using cupped hands and one end of the barbell on the floor. I don't have a barbell, so I substituted an adjustable dumbbell; this was okay, but I think a barbell would have been better. Next comes barbell rows with an underhand, overhand, and then underhand grip (Cathe does three sets of most exercises, generally performing 10 reps). She finishes off the back with one-arm rows (she uses a high step here) and shrugs for a total of 12 minutes of back work. This segment was pretty thorough, but I thought I lost some of the effect due to not having a barbell.

The biceps work begins with barbell curls. Moving to seated, you'll do alternating curls, first hammer curls, then with a twist. Next it's back to standing for "negative" barbell curls: 1 count up, 4 counts down. Cathe finishes off the biceps with concentration curls for a total of 11.5 minutes.

Cathe packs a lot into 6 minutes of abs work--she performs traditional crunches but adds some little twists including leg extensions, a three count hold, reverse curls, and oblique work. She then has you roll over onto your stomach for an additional 2 minutes of back extension work. Finally, the workout ends with 3.5 minutes of stretching performed entirely on the floor for a total of 41.5 minutes.

I think this was a solid workout which effectively targeted the body parts it set out to address. Those who have a wide selection of weights, including a barbell, will probably really like this workout, especially since Cathe takes a lot of pauses allowing you time to change your weights. However, given that I don't own a barbell, I didn't feel like I got the full benefits from this workout (I find Cory Everson's Get Hard Arms & Shoulders a lot easier to modify without a barbell, especially given modifications are shown). So, if you own the equipment and want to try this video, go for it, but if not, there are probably better choices.

Instructor Comments:
As I mentioned, I've only tried one other Cathe video, but I got the impression that she is more subdued here than she is in her more recent videos. She constantly encourages you to lift as heavy as possible, even saying that you should ignore the music in order to lift as slowly as needed with your heavier weights. Her form is always excellent, and she offers helpful pointers as well. She works out with four background exercisers to some recognizable songs, although the music was relatively soft.

Beth C (aka toaster)


I wanted to add a more recent review of the Pure Strength workouts because there are so many new options available now. This is a classic series of strength videos that I still go back to regularly because it does great things for my upper body. (I haven’t been doing the Leg workout as much lately because I have too many other leg workouts to choose from.) Aside from P90X, these videos give me the most straightforward, gym-style, heavy workouts that I can find to use at home. The upper body workouts are around 45 minutes – shorter than P90X or Cathe’s Slow & Heavy series – so you can really give it your all without burning out before the end. It also makes it possible to add in some cardio if you want.

Back/Biceps gives you classic exercises that are mostly done at a moderate speed for 10 reps. The back exercises are my favorite back workout on video – the T-Bar Rows really get my back unlike any other exercise that I can do at home. I was really happy to find these after giving up my gym membership and the lat pull-down machine there. The biceps work is solid, as well; I’m usually giddy throughout the whole bicep section because I’m so happy there are no crazy 8s! The workout can easily be shortened if you don’t want to focus so much on a body part – just skip to the next chapter on the DVD after 1 or 2 sets rather than doing all 3 sets.

This is still a really worthwhile workout to get, even though it’s ancient (5 years old!) in the world of exercise videos! If you want to start lifting heavier weights, this is a great place to start. You can use whatever weights make it a challenge for you; do 1, 2, or all 3 sets of each exercise according to your needs; and you can grow with it indefinitely by increasing your weights and doing all 3 sets.

Instructor Comments:
Cathe is a pro in these workouts. I think she’s a bit more to the point/less chatty than in some of her newer workouts, but she’s still friendly and at-ease in front of the camera. All of the usual background exercisers are there, so you’ll feel right at home and have lots of inspiring women to work out with.



I LOVE this video!!!! It's the best new video I've done in a while. It's only 45-minutes, which is a big plus for me.

I love to be able to go heavy, and this is a great one to do that. You focus on one muscle at a time, which is different than any other video I've done before. It's a very serious, no nonsense workout.

The only problem with this would be if you didn't like to use weights more than a few times a week, since this doesn't work the other muscles. However, you could easily add some extra arm work.

Instructor Comments:
Cathe, as always, is wonderful!



Pure Strength back, biceps, and abs is an excellent workout with tons of variety. You don't have to worry about getting a copy of MIS's bicep and back sections. This tape is filled with variety and many different exercises. I felt a good workout in my back and biceps during the first two sections. I was suprised at the abs section. It didn't look as hard as Body Max's or MIS's but i really felt my abs burning. I really liked this workout. It's my least favorite of the PS series, but it's still really intense. I'd give this tape an A.

Instructor Comments:
As always, Cathe is the best video instructor out there. I'm still in shock at how strong she is.

pat griffin


I love this workout! I really try to go as heavy as possible and still maintain proper form. I like the way that Cathe slows the reps down, and also puts slightly longer rests, so that we can use heavier weights. For back, she does T-bar rows, bent-over rows, lat rows, and shrugs. I don't mind that she doesn't tell us what weight she's using for most of the exercises, but since she cautions us not to go too heavy on shrugs, I wish she'd be a little more specific on the weight. I usually use 10 -12 pound dumbbells for the shrugs.

For biceps she does barbell curls, hammer curls, negative curls, and concentration curls. Since I'm working on bicep strength, I've decided to try to keep my same weight for negative curls that I used for the barbell curls, but I can't do as many reps yet. I'm at 8 reps and 6 reps for the two sets of negative curls. Cathe's ab section is good. Short but intense. I used to hate working my biceps, (probably because of those d*** crazy 8s in MIS and Body Max!) but since I've been able to see some gains, it's definitely worth it! I don't even mind crazy 8's too much anymore. Cathe's Pure Strength series is great!

Instructor Comments:
As usual, Cathe is wonderful. I'm so glad she encourages us to use heavy weights.

Melissa F


This video is my favorite of the series. Doing this video just a few times made my biceps peak, which is something I've been working on for awhile. It also takes a lot to make my biceps sore, but this one almost makes them sting.

Another strong point of this video is a super-tough ab section along with work for the lower back-- something most videos skip.

The back section is great-- go very heavy on these or you won't feel anything. She starts with T-bar rows, which I've always skipped in every other video but since they're first I can change my barbell around. These are tough to get the hang of. If the barbell isn't super heavy and you're holding it just right, you don't feel it. I also found that if you prop the end of the barbell against a wall, it won't slip away from you. She then does the usual bent over rows and one-armed rows. I think she does about 11 sets for the back. I also noticed improvement in back very quickly-- something I've had a hard time developing. Of the three videos, this one has produced the quickest results.

The bicep section has a few less sets but it's definitely painful. Several very heavy sets as well as lesser, shaping exercises like hammer curls, supinated hammer curls and concentration curls-- my favorite! Cory Everson mentions in her video that this particular exercise is a "peaking" exercise. Few other videos seem to have this one. Oh yeah, and none of the dreaded "crazy 8s" in this video.

The extra long rest periods mean you can go really heavy in these videos.

The different selection of exercises she used in the Pure Strength series really complement her other strength videos, and I think cross training with these would produce maximum results. I know I'm very happy with what I see so far.

Last but not least, the production quality on these is better, though the music is quieter. The new set is pretty (plants!) and the new box design is also very attractive.

Finally, I really liked it that the warmups for all three tapes were done on the floor. I appreciated not having to mess around with my step.

I highly recommend the series to anyone who needs to jump start their weight routine, needs a change or is interested in splitting up body parts. I never was, and almost didn't order the series for that reason. I thought I'd miss the feeling of having worked every body part. I don't-- and these are also very easy to fit into a schedule, and short enough that you could tack on a little cardio if need be.

Instructor Comments:
See legs review

Sara Whitney


Can I tell you that this video is giving me some great muscles in my biceps??!! I have tried using other video's but after using this tape for 2 weeks, I am seeing a nice curve in my bicep. This workout will give you results! The workout time also goes fast because you only work your back and biceps then go to the floor for abs and more back. Cathe starts off with some great sets for back work. She holds the barbell for T-bar rows but I use my towel to hold the barbell like the Firm does on Strongbody/Strength with Pam Cauthen. Cathe does 4 sets which is pretty tough. Then 3 more sets of back exercises using the barbell. Then she does 6 sets of lat rows which has my lats burning. My back feels so nice and warm after this workout! No other video has done this for me. I wish she had done reverse flyes but instead she does shoulder lifts. These really burn but have given my upper body great tone by doing these exercises. Cathe gives good tips about lifting the weight not only "up" but concentrate on "pulling" the weight down as you shrug down. The bicep work is tough as well. Continuous exercises to get the muscle to absolute failure. Cathe wants you to go very heavy. She uses a barbell and dumbells. I found strength improving within 3 workouts! I could barely use 8 lb dumbells for the concentration curls but found that after 3 workouts, I could use 10lbs. Cathe is so down to earth and says things like,"I MAY just have to go down in weight on the next round" But then she was able to keep the same weight which encouraged me to go for it! There aren't any crazy eights in this bicep section. But enough bicep curls with a barbell, negative curls, hammer curls, bicep curls with a twist and finally concentration curls. Now can you tell why my biceps are growing?? Plus Cathe tells you to rest your biceps and back for 2 days after this workout. Maybe that is why I'm seeing such great results because of the rest time to build the muscle. Anyway, then the ab work is very very thorough. Cathe's ab routines are the only exercises that have taken my overly weak 6 pregnancy abs and are changing them to toned well defined abs. I am finally seeing some rectus abdominus or whatever the technical name. Also my obliques are getting nice and tight. AND, with this workout, Cathe does her killer hang the leg down in mid air as you crunch. This may look easy as you are watching but this is what is giving me great results in my abs. Then she does oblique crunches and oblique side crunches. Now after doing the tons of lat rows, there is something about the side crunches that really burn because the lats are just right under that obliques. And they are very tired. It feels like its really working! You know that feeling. Anyway, then after the abs, you flip over and do some heavenly back exercises and this just puts the finishing touches on the back work. I could see results within 3 workouts. At first, I could barely do all the back floor exercises and within 3 workouts, I was able to finish(but it's not easy!). Being a Mom of 6 kids from 9 1/2 years to 16 months, I do ALOTTA carrying! This workout really helps my weak back and weak abs. Also, I have less back soreness since using this tape. Well, I do have some muscle soreness the day after the workout but it's slowly diminishing. This workout is the supreme of it's kind! Can you tell I love it?! The cool down is nice and short and relaxing. I find myself doing a little more back stretches on my own just because it feels good. The music is very very upbeat and I love it! Cathe does ignore the music on some of the heavier bicep work, but you know it doesn't sound bad. I am very musically aware of things and I felt my heal still thumping to the beat as my biceps were going at half time. Very fun! I highly recommend this tape to anyone who wants strong biceps, back and abs. You WILL see results. I am living proof!

Instructor Comments:
Cathe is like having a personal trainer working out right a long with you with encouraging words and wise advice. For only $19.95??!! This is very cheap! Her form is perfect and she has a body that is very lean and muscular. Her hair is very short in this video.

Mandy Lee


Of the three new Pure Strength tapes, this is my favorite (although I *love* all of them). I like this one best because back and biceps are my two favorite strength workouts. This tape is just great. It's not so long that you get bored, but it's long enough to really challenge you. My biceps get really pumped from this. I don't know if back muscles can get "pumped" the same way biceps can, but I definitely know I'm working my back as well.

I won't comment on the abs, because I prefer stabilization ab exercises like the Method style to traditional ab work. I do part or all of Cathe's ab work sometimes, but generally I will skip this part. I'm not disappointed, though, because I didn't buy the tape for the ab work -- just the back and biceps. And I got my money's worth!

Grade A+.

Annie S.


Back, Biceps & Abs is another winner in Cathe Friedrich's Pure Strength series. Cathe will work these areas thoroughly! Everyone's favorite, the T-bar rows, are first. I really like the way that Cathe uses warm-up sets in this series. Most of the other exercises for the back and the biceps have been done before (lat rows, bicep curls with the barbell, hammer curls, concentration curls--like these!). I also like that Cathe included dumbbell shrugs for the trapezius. So many other videos leave these out (offhand, the only other videos I can remember that include these are Firm vols. 3 & 6, and then not nearly as many). The ab work in this tape is great--I think it's tougher and more interesting than the ab work in the legs tape. I like the spinal erector work at the end, too! Overall, I think I prefer the chest, shoulders & triceps tape a little more, but that's only because in this tape, Cathe uses more standard exercises. This is still a great tape--a great complement to the other upper body tape in this series, and to the leg tape as well! Great for the intermediate (using ligher weight) to advanced exerciser!

Instructor Comments:
Probably the best all-around instructor on video. Cuing is crystal-clear, non-intimidating approach, and friendly yet not sappy. Cathe sure knows her audience!

Kristin Aziz


The third volume from the Pure Strength series is another winner. This one targets the back, biceps, and abdominals, including the spinal erectors of the lower back. You'll need a barbell, several pairs of dumbells, and some sort of tall box or stool to sit on and to support yourself for one arm rows. You could substitute dumbells for the barbell work if you don't have a barbell, but I feel that you'll get a better workout if you have a barbell.

Like the other Pure Strength tapes, this one has the same new cityscape set, and like Pure Strength Legs, the soundtrack features instrumental versions of rock classics from the 70's and 80's. As usual, Cathe gives thorough and helpful form pointers throughout the workout.

The video breakdown is approximately 3 1/2 minutes of warm up, 12 minutes of strength training for the back, 11 1/2 min. of biceps, 10 minutes of abdominals/lower back, and a 4 min. final stretch for a total of just over 40 minutes, a good length to pair with a shorter cardio workout or to do on days when you're short on time. As with the other Pure Strength tapes, you could easily break this workout down into 10-12 min. segments, tacking one body part onto your regular cardio workout if you wish. The workout has overlay screens between most exercises that tell you what exercise is next, and whether to grab dumbells, add or subtract weight from the barbell, etc. This is helpful because you're likely to need to add or subtract weight on occasion. Most of the exercises are done in sets of ten reps.

The warm up is similar to that in Vol. 2--simple step touches with a variety of arm movements to warm up the target muscles. Then you start with strength work for the back. T-bar rows are first--you begin with a relatively light warm up set, then pile on the plates for 3 heavy sets (Cathe says 2 sets, then decides to put you through a third!). I believe Cathe has four 10-lb. plates loaded at the top of her barbell for this exercise!

Next you even out the plates on your barbell to do bent over rows. You begin with one set using an underhand grip, then do another with an overhand grip, then another underhand. Cathe says the underhand grip targets the forearms more, so you can do all the sets underhand if you want to.

You move on to one arm bent rows, using a heavy dumbell and a stool for support. Cathe uses a 20 pound dumbell here, and leads you through three sets on each arm.

The last exercise for the back is the "shrug"--which is just like it sounds. Shrugs, with dumbells held at the side, target the trapezius, and Cathe warns you not to go too heavy on these. I believe she uses 10's. These felt great.

Moving on to biceps, you load your barbell very heavy for barbell curls. Cathe lifts an incredible 45 lbs. here, and purposefully tells you to ignore the beat of the music and take these reps slowly. The reps are significantly slower than in MIS. Then you move on to alternating seated curls with dumbells (Cathe uses 12's or 15's, I think). The first set is hammer curls, then on the second set you rotate the curl on the way up to the shoulder.

Next are two sets of 10 negative curls (up on one, down slowly on counts 2-3-4) with the barbell. Cathe is down to 35 lbs. here. Last but not least you do two sets of concentration curls with moderate weights, seated on the stool.

Next up are the abdominals--I remember thinking the first two sections had flown by and was surprised that abs were up already. If you have Cathe's other strength tapes you've seen most of the crunch and oblique variations used in the ab section, with the exception of "climb the rope", where you alternate grabbing with one hand and pulling your upper body up.

What is new is some welcome work for the lower back's spinal erector muscles. You may have seen exercises similar to these in Fitness Formula, Abs and More, or Firm Arms and Abs--I wish more videos had them because they balance out abdominal work so nicely. Cathe's sets are pretty tough, including a more advanced double lift with both arms overhead and feet lifting up simultaneously.

The stretch is nice, particularly for the back, and the music is pretty--sounds like something from a yoga tape.

In sum, this is another great workout, and I look forward to using it in combination with Cathe's other strength tapes. The workout is paced really nicely, and it would be easily combined with a short cardio workout.



Wendy pretty much covered all the details about this tape, so I'll just add a few comments. I LOVE THIS TAPE! I've only actually done it once, but I have to say I think it is the most thorough bicep and back workout I have ever done. Even Cathe has trouble at one point after one set of "concentration curls" (isolated seated curls), and says "I might, I think I just might lighten up for the next set." Then, of course, Cathe being Cathe, says "Okay, I'll be brave," when the next set actually does roll around. This was terribly motivating because I was thinking to myself, well, if she can do one more set on that weight, I suppose I can do one more set on mine.

All the background exercisers look fabulous on this tape. The warm-up is brief but fairly thorough for an upper body workout. The back work was excellent and I'm glad to see Cathe has incorporated T-Bar Rows, one of my favorite things from FIRM Strength. Time just flies by. The abs section is short but deadly, and I do mean deadly. My abs don't usually get sore these days, but I could still feel my lower abs yesterday, a full two days after I'd done this tape.

What I'm really amazed by in this new Pure Strength series is that even though everything is HARD and you work yourself to failure on every body part, they are also very relaxing videos-- good set, good music and Cathe just seems so content and smiley. You hardly even notice the length of the tapes because Cathe makes it as pleasant as possible while you're doing them. All in all, this is a fabulous tape that could very easily be tacked onto a cardio workout-- a truly excellent tape. Most definitely belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Instructor Comments:
Cathe is great in this video, even at the moments where you can tell she's having a really tough time with the last sets of bicep curls. I agree she seems more at ease in front of the camera in these four new tapes than she ever has before. Kudos to Cathe for producing yet another winner.



I liked this one best of the Pure Strength series, but I still can't help feeling ripped off after paying $30 Cdn for it. Again, this is only a 40-minute tape, and basically just 2-3 straight sets per exercise.

First are T-bar rows. The way that Cathe does them (gripping the end of the bar directly) gave me only a limited range of motion, so I used a towel as in FIRM Strength, and that enabled me to feel the muscles better. For the barbell rows, just leaning over slightly as Cathe does did not activate my back muscles, so I had to bend over parallel to the floor as in BodyMax. The one-arm rows and shrugs are fine - I am glad to see this last exercise finally in a video. The Biceps routine is perfect, in my opinion: barbell curls, seated hammer curls, negative-emphasis barbell curls, and concentration curls. It hits all the angles, and the negatives are a nice advanced technique. The Abs routine was good, and the lower back exercises were excellent.

I appreciate that Cathe performs the reps slowly enough, and takes long enough rests, that heavier weights can be used. But so does Cory Everson in her Basic Sculpting System: Back, Biceps and Abs. Cathe's tape is better, mainly because of the Abs section, but it is also three times more expensive, and that is what I don't like!

Instructor Comments:
Cathe is always motivating and fun.

Serena Schlueter