Pyramid Upper Body

Cathe Friedrich
Year Released: 2002

Categories: Balance/Medicine/Mini/Stability Ball, Upper Body Strength

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One of the best upper-body workouts out there. In just under an hour (closer to 30 minutes for the premixes), Cathe cues a thorough endurance-based strength workout. Four extremely fit backgrounders work with Cathe as she takes you through two exercises per body part (chest, back, shoulders, triceps, biceps), doing a pyramid of 12 reps at light weight, 10 at medium, 8 at heavy, then back to 10/medium and 12/light to close out the set. The pace is pretty quick; almost always I pause between body parts to get a sip of water, make a note of weights used, and line up my weights for the next segment.

The premixes are better for muscle-building instead of endurance, since you have only three sets and can go heavier to hit failure on the 8-rep set.

The 8-minute stability-ball abs section is TOUGH, and the second half involves roll-ins and pikes on the ball. My arms are so fried after the pyramid weights, I prefer to do the warmup, then fast-forward to abs, then do the weights work and stretch section last.

Equipment for this workout: Cathe and her crew use dumbbells only for the workout. I use a barbell on the heavier back pullovers because it's more comfortable. They also use a standard-sized step with risers as a weight bench (optional but recommended, or you'll be getting up and down from the floor a LOT), plus a stability ball for the abdominal section. One of the backgrounders does the abs without the ball if you don't have one.

Instructor Comments:
The Intensity Series is one of Cathe's best because her cueing is clear, she's enthusiastic and the workout time seems to fly. As always, her form is impeccable.



Another great workout from Cathe. This one was definitely not easy. You work up the pyramid, then back down. By the time you hit your lightest weights at the end of the set, your muscles are shaking. I definitely felt thoroughly worked all over the upper body, but especially in the biceps. I used the same weight as Cathe & crew, and probably should have gone lighter, I KNOW I'm going to be sore tomorrow. Even Cathe struggles in this segment. She somehow manages to maintain her form and complete the entire pyramid. This one really flew by for me too. You're constantly changing weights as well as exercises, so before I knew it, it was over. The ab work at the end is TOUGH! You really have to have a good base level of core strength to get through it. I found that maintaining all those plank like stances after having completely fried my entire upper body was a huge challenge in itself.

Instructor Comments:
I love Cathe because she's just so REAL...she huffs and puffs right along with you. In this workout, you can tell she's really giving it her all.



I wrote that I liked PLB, but I have actually been more pleased with Pyramid Upper Body. In it, Cathe uses the pyramid system, 1 set (x) of 12 reps, 1x10, 1x8, 1x10, 1x12. She performs an upper body workout and then a very challenging ab section using the stability ball.

Cathe also uses a super setting method, designed to fatigue each muscle group very effectively. This works well as most people do not want to be keeping too many pairs of dumbbells on hand (I have 10, much to dh's disgust). She uses a maximum weight of 20lb in the workout. She varies the tempo which is favourable meaning you can put more into a slower movement. However faster movements are woven in - I think this is to prevent you from going too heavy and dropping a weight on yourself - ie. think it is a safety measure in a way.

Here's the breakdown:

Chest: chest flyes, palms facing toes (more delt involvement) then bench press - sensibly Cathe does the flyes 2:2 time and the bench 1:1 (I would have preferred 2:2). Excellent technique and form pointers

Back: pullover, plus deadrows. Cathe does the pullovers 2:2 and some sets of the rows single time and some a lot slower. She reminds us to go slower with a heavier weight. I love pullovers - a good opportunity to engage the core, retract shoulder blades and keep hips still. Cathe performs the deadrows well and offers modifications.

Shoulders: giant set of reverse flyes, lateral raises, front raise. A lot of these done in single time some in double time. I used very small increments of weight in order to keep my form perfect - something to consider.

Triceps - kick backs followed by overhead extension. She demonstrates good technique for the kickbacks and gives good form pointers (eg reduce momentum by returning to a 90 degree angle etc). She performs the overhead extensions nicely but could comment on not bringing the dumbbell down too far and hyperextending at the elbows.
Uses varying speeds. :)

Biceps - the killer! Cathe mentions that she is having an out of body experience when doing these and I heartily agree with her. I would have been happy just to do three sets as it's a small muscle group. The exercises are hammer curls and traditional bicep curls done in 2:2 time. Worth doing all the reps just to see Cathe and co complaining!

Ab work - a challenging segment using the stabilty ball. Exercises include a modified pilates roll up/sit up with the ball, a reverse plank with roll in and a pike.
These exercises are definitely advanced and I believe that you need to master the pilates roll up and be able to do a reverse plank (hands on ground, feet on ball) before trying these exercises out. Cathe also does these exercises too fast in my opinion, even though her technique is good. She could give more modifications and explanation here. To master these exercises work on the pilates roll up (and focus on using the spine, not the hip flexors, as Cathe and crew do when rolling up) and the reverse plank. Slow down the leg roll in and focus on keeping the glutes squeezed and the hips lifted and still.

A+ for upper body segment. Touchdown!
B for the abs (too advanced for most, but doable with instruction)

Instructor Comments:
In this workout Cathe is very professional and offers lots of form pointers. A+ for attention to detail.

Liz N


The full pyramid system is used in this workout (12, 10, 8, 10, 12 reps) and two exercises per body part are performed. The exercises are supersetted.

chest flies
chest press

double-arm rows

side lateral raises
front raises
rear delt flies

tricep kickbacks
overhead tricep extensions

traditional curls
hammer curls

I love this video. With the DVD there are so many options. You can do the full pyramid, pyramid up, or pyramid down. Because the reps are slow and controlled and I use the heaviest weight possible and only ever do the pyramid up option and my upper body is fried. The only exercise I don't like is the pullover for the back. I just don't feel this exercise too much in the back. But that minor quibble aside, this is an excellent upper body workout that you will never outgrow.

Instructor Comments:
Cathe is friendly, professional, and knowledgeable. Her workouts always stress impeccable form. Pleasure to workout with.

Grace M


This workout has been a useful and convenient addition to my collection. I have the DVD, which includes the entire Pyramid Lower Body Workout, as well as pre-mixes that include Up the Pyramid Only, Down the Pyramid Only and a total body combo. Each set of each exercise is also chaptered individually, so you can skip ahead or program workouts to your specifications at will.

Structurally, this workout is comparable to Joyce Vedral’s Definition workout, but it is longer and better produced. Minus the ball work, the upper body workout is about half an hour but Cathe moves at a slower and more careful pace than Joyce does, and her instruction and form are far superior. Each exercise gets 5 sets, but since you only do 2 exercises per body part, the time flies by. These are classic moves that would be familiar to most exercisers at this level. My only complaint was the fact that the rests are almost non-existent. The workout moves at a fairly brisk pace, especially for a Cathe tape.

The strength routine is followed by some of the most difficult ball work I have ever seen (although to be fair, she does show non-ball modifications), including the now-famous “Pike” move where, for the second time in my entire life as a vidiot, I sat there stunned, so out of my league that I could not even decide how to modify the move into something I actually could do. I have since decided that Cathe is either an alien, a robot, or else she has magic powers of some kind, so I can enjoy this perfectly nice upper body strength workout and skip the supernatural display of powers guilt-free :-)



This workout focuses on the pyramid system - doing 12 reps with a moderate weight, 10 reps of the same exercise with a heavier weight, 8 reps with the heaviest weight you can handle with good form, then back to 10 reps with the lighter weight, and 12 reps with the lightest challenging weight. Chest, Back, Tris, and Bis are each worked in a super set combining 2 exercises. Shoulders are worked in a giant set of 3 moves. Cathe uses some old and new moves and I love how she slows down the count to 2-2 when the weights get heavy. The chest work is done a wee bit fast for my tastes, but I have never been as strong as Cathe in this area. The biceps section is the killer. Trust me. Even Cathe is a bit shocked at how hard it is. After the upperbody work, you go into abdominal work with the stability ball. This section is very challenging and seems much longer than 8 minutes! Cathe doesn't offer any tips as to how to stay on the ball, but she does show impeccable form, so if you mimic her, and build up your core muscles, you should be able to do it! What a great workout! Everything from the waist up is exhausted in about 50 min. A+

Instructor Comments:
Cathe's form, cuing, and form pointers are flawless. She is down to earth too, never preachy or smug.



My overall impression of this workout is good. It does what it claims to do, which is to use a pyramid system of weight-training, to strengthen each muscle group in the upper body. Cathe made it a bit more interesting than the typical pyramid system, because she combined 2 or more exercises as opposed to doing a pyramid for only one exercise at a time. For chest, Cathe combined a chest fly with a bench press, did one set of both exercises, consecutively, with one set of dumbbells, then increased the weights and did another set of both exercises, increased the weights again, did another set of both exercises, then decreased the weights, did another set of both exercises, decreased the weights again to the lightest weights, and did the last set of both exercises. She did a pyramid for back, performing a supine lying overhead pullover followed by a standing double arm bent-over row (I didn't like this much because I didn't like repeatedly lying down and standing up). For shoulders, she did a combination of 3 exercises: a seated bent-over rear delt fly, followed by standing side lateral raises and front raises. For triceps, she did a standing bent-over double tricep kickback followed by a seated overhead French press using one heavy dumbbell. For biceps, she did a double hammer curl followed by a biceps curl. All exercises were done with dumbbells.

Abdominals were last, using a large stability ball. She did a series of exercises lying supine, where you raise the ball overhead and do a sit-up, and one where you sit up and kick the ball which is out in front of you. Another exercise involved sitting on the floor, leaning back and twisting while holding the ball. There was also a twisting exercise done seated on the ball. The toughest exercises were done in a plank position, with your hands on the floor and the ball under the shins. One exercise involved rolling the ball inward as you bend your knees toward your chest. The other exercise which was the toughest, involved placing the hands on the floor and bending at the hip joints and raising the body into a pike position while rolling the ball underneath you. I think this was one of the toughest abdominal exercises I've ever seen in all my years of exercising. I found it quite difficult to do for several reasons; the abdominals were already quite fatigued by then and it felt like a lot of pressure on the wrists. In general though, it's a very difficult and effective workout for abs, designed for the advanced exerciser.

There was a warm-up and a cool-down in this workout. There were also modifications shown, for example, in the ab section, with Brenda, our star VFer, who did not use the stability ball.

What I liked about the workout was that I think the pyramid system is very effective in working the muscles to fatigue. I think that continuous use of this system would get good toning results. There are however, some drawbacks, in my opinion. One of the drawbacks is that the variety of exercises is limited to 2 per body part (except for shoulders) and some of those exercises are not the most effective exercises for the body part. For example, there are no military presses for shoulders. I don't think that rear delt flyes are the best exercise for a pyramid system because most people use light weights and cannot go heavy on rear delt flyes. I think military (overhead) shoulder presses would have been a better choice to include in the shoulder giant set. I feel the same regarding the choice of lying overhead pullover for back, the form for which was not well-explained, and which many people may not do correctly at home without instruction. I also don't think that the lying overhead pulldown is the most effective exercise for back, and could potentially cause rotator cuff injuries, if performed with too heavy a weight or with improper form. I think that Cathe may have chosen it to do something different or for variety. In general, I feel that additional exercises for each body part is required for a truly thorough strength workout for upper body. I think that this tape is great, so long as it would be used in combination with others, such as Cathe's MIS, PS, CTX Upper Body and others.

The other problem I had with this workout is that I was losing interest and concentration because each pyramid up and down took so long. I found myself watching the clock. Part of the problem, in my opinion, was that there were too many reps for each set. A pyramid system is designed to allow a person to go heavier than they could normally go, because as the weights get heavier, the reps get less. I felt that Cathe did so many reps, at the heaviest weight, that it was not possible to go to the heaviest weight I could use for an exercise, and especially knowing that there was still a long downward pyramid coming after the heaviest weight set. I think that I could not go as heavy as possible since there was more than one exercise being performed each set.

Still, I would recommend this workout to advanced exercisers looking for an effective alternative to work the upper body.

Instructor Comments:
Cathe's experience and professionalism shines through on this video. She uses excellent form, gives form pointers throughout, seems friendly and cheerful and relaxed, and is in great condition---especially in view of the fact that she had her 2nd baby just months earlier!



Warm up~3 ˝ minutes. The only pushups in the entire workout are done on the knees, hands on step as part of the warmup.

Pyramid system used:
12 reps at lightest weight
10 reps at moderate weight
8 reps at heaviest weight
10 reps at moderate weight
12 reps at lightest weight

There is just enough time to switch weights (quickly) between sets & enough time to take a deep breath between super sets although in mid bicep work Cathe & crew do pause for a very short time. They are obviously working very hard throughout the entire workout! There is a short stretch of each muscle group worked immediately following the pyramid.

1. Chest-Chest flyes/bench press supersets. The same hand position, with fat ends of dumbbells toward side walls, is used for both the flyes & press. Weights used by Cathe 12-15-20

2. Back-Pullovers/double arm row supersets (standing, flat back). Pullovers are done with one dumbbell, hands holding hex ends. Wts. Used-12-15-20.

3. Shoulders-Giant sets-Seated rear flyes, standing side lateral raises, standing front raises. Single count reps are done with the light weights with no pauses between exercises. The reps are slowed to a 2-2 count at the start of the 5 pound front raises & stays at 2-2 until the lightest weights again. Wts. Used-3-5-8

4. Triceps-Kickbacks (standing, flat back)/overhead press (seated) supersets. One dumbbell used for overhead press. Wts. used-kickbacks-3-5-10, overhead press-12-15-20.

5. Biceps-Hammercurls/traditional curls supersets. Wts. used-10-12-15.
Approx. 41 min. for this section.

Ab Work with the ball!
Tough ab session!
4-full form sit-up, knees slightly bent, ball held in hands extended over head.
8-halfway back & up
16-halfway back & up, alternating feet touching the ball at the top of the movement.
3-full form.
12-sit up, hold, alternate quick ball tap with feet, down, then halfway up.
28-Oblique work-leaning back twisting ball from side to side.

More oblique work sitting on ball, holding one 8lb. dumbbell vertically in both hands, stabilze core & twist only the upper body side to side, imagining the ROM to be from 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock. 28 reps.

Prone planks-With ball under feet & shins pull knees in under chest using a 2-2 count. 10 reps.

Pikes-Ball under feet & shins pull body up vertically like an inverted V, like going into a handstand only the feet remain on the ball. 12 reps.

Single leg 4 count holds above ball, 4 more pikes, one more 4 count leg hold.

Final stretch using the ball. ~4 min.
Entire workout clocks in just under 1 hour.

Instructor Comments:
Cathe & all the her background exercisers are inspiring!(as usual)