Slow and Heavy: Chest and Back

Cathe Friedrich
Year Released: 2001

Categories: Circuit Training (cardio and weights)

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I'm rediscovering this series after a long time (two years!) away and liking it a lot. Cathe and four backgrounders do slow and heavy sets, usually three sets of eight reps, to exhaust the muscles and build mass and strength. You'll need dumbbells and a high-step-as-bench (or regular weight bench) for this workout.

After a brief warmup, Cathe and crew move to chest work. These are basic isolation exercises: bench press, flyes, incline bench press, incline flyes and pushups. The slow count - two down, six up - really fries your muscles. I was shaking at the end of the second and third sets. If you want to vary the count, you could do a set with six counts down and two up. Cathe takes a minute between sets and offers form pointers and light chatter.

The back work is also basic: bent-over rows (a real killer when done slowly with the elbow moving back instead of up and down), pullovers and deadlifts. You then go to the floor for supermans and planks.

There are brief stretches between sets, so the closing stretch is very short.

Modifications: you could use a barbell for some of the exercises so your hands don't get sore from gripping heavy dumbbells. I might also put the supermans/planks section after the warmup and before weights; my planks suffered in form and duration after that lift-to-failure chest workout.

Instructor Comments:
Cathe's form pointers are great in this series and her weights are impressive. She mixes up 'sets' and 'reps' a lot in this series; I try my best to ignore it.



I use this series differently than the majority of Vfers. I rarely spend an entire hour doing strength work Ė I prefer to do aerobics followed by 10 to 30 minutes of strength. I let these sit unused for the longest time, because I never seemed to find the time to devote a whole hour to one of them. Then it dawned on me (duh) there was no need to do the entire thing Ė these are perfectly broken up into 10-minute-or-so sections, and I can just tack them on to the cardio. Once I had that stroke of brilliance :) these became absolute favorites. I do one to three sections at a time, and, as everyone else has pointed out, the exercises are very challenging, so I donít feel Iím missing a thing. I go a little heavier than I would if I were doing a whole hour, so it probably all balances out in the end anyway. This series is so complete and perfect that Iíve been able to weed out my collection a lot. Between these, Giladís Quick Fit, and Cory Everson, I feel Iíve got all I need or want (till the next Cathe series comes out, anyway :) ). Grade A+.

Annie S.


Before I start Iíd like to give you a little background. My preferred method of lifting is abbreviated training (compound lifts, heavy weights, and very little isolation work) and I was looking for a change when I picked up the Slow and Heavy tapes. This is a very different style of lifting than Iím used to.

This tape concentrates on slow reps, but multiple sets, usually 3 sets of 8 for each lift. But each rep is two counts down, six counts up and that makes it a whole lot more difficult than most lifting. I dropped my weights significantly from what I would use for standard lifting. After a very basic hi/lo warmup, itís right into bench presses and I knew from the start that I was going to be in pain. Those slow reps are killer.. Then off to pec flies and I decreased my weight again. Now put your bench at an incline and do both of them again. It looks so easy when it's written down but it was highly painful at the time. Now jump off the bench and do a set of 8 pushups two counts down, 6 counts up. Ouch!

Then off to back work. It starts with dumbbell rows. These were harder than I expected because those 6 counts up seemed endless. Pullovers were next. I didn't feel these in my back very much at all but it was a real shoulder killer and after doing them I know that this particular move will never be part of my regular lifting routine. Anything that makes my shoulders feel this bad has no place in my workout. Straight-legged dead lifts were next, once again 2 counts down, 6 up. I usually think of SLDL as mainly a hamstring exercise but at the slow speed in this tape, I felt it more in my back than I usually do. But that's it for the standard back work, after that itís on to core work.

The first exercise is the one where you lie on your belly with your arms over your head and then lift both your legs and arms off the floor. These weren't all that difficult because we do similar things in yoga. Cathe suggests adding wrist and ankle weights for more of a challenge. Planks are next, three different types Ė one on your elbows, one in the traditional upward pushup position, and one in a reverse position, Each are probably held for about 60 seconds but it seems like forever when your shoulders, triceps and pecs are so toasted from the rest of the workout.

An amusing asideÖwhile I was doing this workout, my husband was eating ice cream (Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey if you care about specifics) and offered me some. Of course I accepted the offer but my muscles were shaking so much that I almost couldn't scoop it out of the container. I was limited to one spoonful because of this mighty IOMS (immediate onset muscle soreness).

Overall? I think the good thing about the tape is that it forces good form with these slow reps. Theyíre much harder than I expected them to be. Itís also nice because it doesnít require really heavy weights to be effective. Cathe takes a lot more time between sets than in her other tapes but it's still not as long as I take between heavy sets at the gym. But it's awkward for her because she's got to kill time while resting so she spends a lot of time telling you to get some "warter." In my opinion, it's overkill for a chest workout and the back workout seemed rather light. And hanging onto the dumbbells (it's all dumbbell work, no barbell work) for the length of time it took to complete the sets was difficult because it felt like there was too much pressure between my thumb and finger. I started gripping the dumbbell with the thumb on the same side of the dumbbell as the rest of the fingers to alleviate some of the pressure. Itís very different than anything I've seen on video but did I like it? Well, as a change of pace it was sort of refreshing. It takes forever though (each tape is about an hour) and it's more bodybuilder style than basic functional fitness style. I doubt Iíll be using it as itís designed but may use it in a modified format with 2 sets instead of three and then drop either the incline or flat bench and flies to decrease the volume. And Iíd probably move the pushups to the beginning of the chest work and do more than one set.

Instructor Comments:
Cathe is professional and polished as usual.

Anne V


I was very excited to try the Slow & Heavy series and I chose to do the larger Chest and Back muscle groups first. It took me a while to get used to the new pace - without thinking, I started out by doing bench presses 2 counts down, 2 counts up until I remembered this is Slow & Heavy! This entire workout was done with dumbbells, which is good because it forces both sides to work evenly, but it also requires that you have a pretty good variety of weights. I have adjustable dumbbells that go from about 8 to 18 lbs plus regular dumbbells in 3, 5, and 8 lbs. That was fine for this workout but I may need to get additional plate weights when my strength increases. The basic format of the workout is 3 sets of 8 slow reps (2 down, 6 up) with a 1-2 minute break in between sets. The entire workout is about 60 minutes, and you could easily break it into 2 30-minute workouts of one body part each.

First was the chest work. We do bench presses and flyes, and then repeat that on an incline. Throughout the reps Cathe gives lots of form pointers and she also lets us know when she is dropping her weights when her chest is feeling more fatigued. Then there are 2 optional sets of Slow & Heavy pushups. I felt pretty good so I went ahead and did the pushups, but my second set was on my knees. Because the reps are slow and the breaks are pretty long, I didn't feel much of a burn after doing chest and thought maybe my weights were not heavy enough. However, 12 hours later the soreness started to set in in my pecs. I also felt a bit fatigued in my shoulders.

Next is back. Again, everything is done with dumbbells - rows, pullovers (this works your chest a little too) and deadlifts. For the rows, you keep your arms at the same angle as you pull up rather than collapsing at the elbow. I'm not sure what this is supposed to do but I felt it more in my rear delts. Then Cathe goes on to work your lower back some more with superman (she says you can make it more difficult with ankle and wrist weights, but no one in the video chooses this option!) and planks. There are three sets of planks - face down on your forearms, with straight arms (boy was I shaking during this one because my arms were so tired by this point) and then face up. This last version was a bit hard on my wrists and I couldn't hold the position very long. Cathe suggests choosing one of the other plank positions if you experience wrist pain.

Overall a great workout. It's very different from other strength workouts I have done because it requires concentration to maintain good form and the slow speed. I did not sweat very much and it didn't give me that burning feeling - more like a slight ache and some fatigue. I felt pretty sleepy that day and like I mentioned before, the soreness kicked in by the end of the day. The format of this workout really allows you to work your muscles very thoroughly - the emphasis is on quality, not quantity - and I can tell already that I will be very pleased with the results. The hardest part is making myself take sufficient rest between S&H workouts, because I really look forward to the next one!

Instructor Comments:
What can I say? Cathe just seems to get better every time. Lots of great form pointers and ideas for modifications. Cathe also seemed very human - she let us know when she noticed her form starting to suffer and had to drop to a lower weight - no showing off here! She looks great too. Although this is a very intense workout, Cathe keeps the tone light by making little jokes here and there.

Caroline Kim