Cathe’s Pyramid Upper and Lower Body

Just when I think Cathe has done it all, I try another new-to-me Cathe workout and am again surprised and impressed. Cathe’s strength workouts generally focus on building muscle strength or building muscle endurance; the pyramid technique focuses on both strength and endurance in a single workout. It is also a workout that you need to take notes during. You should be doing that during all strength workouts if you want to make gains, but some people don’t record the weight they’re lifting. For this workout however, it is a necessity. Just like all strength workouts, I consider the first time through a “trial run” to see what weight I need to lift the next time I do it for optimal results. Because of the way this workout is set up, you definitely need to be using the right weight. If you aren’t using the proper weights for your body, you will find that you are doing either a strength or an endurance workout—and not getting all that Pyramid is designed to give you.

Cathe performs her pyramids in the standard fashion: high reps (12) with a light weight, moderate reps (10) with a moderate weight and low reps (8) with a heavy weight—then she pyramids right back down. So you do 5 sets of each exercise in all:

1st set 12 reps of a light weight

2nd set 10 reps of a moderate weight

3rd set 8 reps of a heavy weight

4th set 10 reps of a moderate weight

5th set 12 reps of a light weight

Cathe also adds an extra element—she supersets all of the upper body work and some of the lower body work. This not only completely burns the muscle group out, but it also keeps the workout more interesting. I have read various reviews of this workout. Some people love it, others find it boring because you are doing so many sets of the same exercise. The supersets help to alleviate the boredom, but apparently not enough for everyone. It worked for me tho! This is a very fast paced strength workout and time flew.

Pyramid DVD contains two workouts—a split set workout routine: Pyramid Upper Body and Pyramid Lower Body. This workout was originally released on VHS in 2002—so each workout was available individually. I feel fortunate I discovered it on DVD because I got both workouts on one DVD, plus I got Cathe’s amazing premixes. And this one has a real bonus (she even names it that on the DVD menu screen). In addition to the premixes individual to each workout, you get a the two workouts mixed together, giving you a full body Pyramid workout.

On to the reviews:

Pyramids Upper Body is 58 minutes long; 1:30 of intro from Cathe, 3 minute warm up, 42 minutes of strength work, 8 minute abs and 4 minute stretch. You will need a club step at 14 inches to lie and sit on, a wide range of dumbbells and a stability ball and mat for the abdominal work and stretch. The warm up contains a lot of dynamic movement that will completely warm up your upper body. Each muscle group is done individually, though remember, the exercises are superset. So, for the chest you do both chest flys and chest presses. You start with your light weights and do set one of chest flys and one set of chest presses before you move up to your moderate weight for set two. And like I mentioned before, it moves fast, so no real rest between sets. The longest “rest” you get is swapping out dumbbells for the next set.

Chest (7 minutes):

Chest flys

Chest press

Back (9 minutes):


Double arm rows

Shoulders (8:30 minutes):

Rear dealt fly

Side lateral raises

Front raises

Triceps (7 minutes):

Tricep kickbacks

Overhead tricep extensions

Biceps (10:30 minutes):

Hammer curls

Regular bicep curls

I don’t usually give much description of the abdominal work in a workout unless I really like it. Well, I really liked the abdominal work in this workout—it was tough! The abdominal work is done with a stability ball. The first section is a variety of sit ups with the ball above your head. You’ll do sit ups, half sit ups, then some much tougher ones where your raise your feet and touch the ball. There is oblique work, first on the floor twisting the ball from side to side, then you sit on the ball and twist side to side while holding a dumbbell. It ends with the toughest—plank work with feet/shins on ball. The first move is hard enough—“prone planks” where you roll the ball in and out with your feet (hands on ground), then you do Pike Planks where you keep your legs straight so when you pull your feet in your butt goes straight up in the air. These are brutal! She does these in Kick, Punch & Crunch and I still haven’t mastered them. The ball still rolls away from me half the time. Plus, when the ball stays put, they are hard and they hurt!

Upper Body premixes: Pyramid up only (3 sets of each exercise) 40 minute, Pyramid down only (3 sets of each exercise) 41 minutes. Both premixes include abdominal work.

Pyramid Lower Body is a 50 minute workout; 5 minute warm up, 41 minute strength training and 4 minute stretch. Just like Pyramid Upper Body, there is a intro by Cathe (making the total length actually 52 minutes) that you can fast forward through. Also, this workout has two parts: standing legs with a barbell is 28 minutes and floor work with a stability ball is 13 minutes.

Holy cow! This workout was brutal! I had suspected it would be after doing the upper body. Luckily Cathe starts you out with, in my opinion, the hardest move to pyramid on—high step climbs. Of course, it wears you out immediately, but I cannot imagine doing that move at the end when she’s already burned your lower body out. My glutes, hamstrings and inner thighs are more sore immediately post-workout than I can ever remember them being. The odd part is that the pyramid aspect is sneaky. As usual, I used the same weight as Cathe for the first time doing the workout. Other than the high step climbs, I felt I could go heavier than Cathe did on all the other exercises… yet I am more sore than ever. That could be due to part two of this lower body workout. The stability ball exercises finish completely burning out the muscles she hammered in the standing exercises. BTW—this is a very fast-paced workout. Just like in the upper body workout, she gives you little to no rest between each set—just enough time to change weights. This is a little more complex with lower body since rather than dumbbells you are using a barbell. If you don’t have a barbell and are substituting dumbbells then you definitely get a longer rest between exercises. However, I was fighting the clock and on a few sets I had to hit pause or she would already be doing the move while I was still changing plates on my barbell.

Equipment needed: high step at 14 inches, you will also use the 4 inch top for calf work, barbell, stability ball and mat.

Just like in Pyramid Upper Body, Cathe performs her pyramids in the standard fashion: high reps (12) with a light weight, moderate reps (10) with a moderate weight and low reps (8) with a heavy weight—then she pyramids right back down. So you do 5 sets of each exercise in all:

1st set 12 reps of a light weight

2nd set 10 reps of a moderate weight

3rd set 8 reps of a heavy weight

4th set 10 reps of a moderate weight

5th set 12 reps of a light weight

Standing Legs:

Leg presses (6:30 minutes)

Static lunges (6:30 minutes)

Superset: squats & plie squats (6 minutes)

Deadlifts (5 minutes)

Calf work (4:30 minutes): that’s all for the pyramiding, but not for the strength work! You will use the top of your tall step and your barbell, but the barbell is just for balance as you do calf raises off the edge of the step topper.

Floor work (12:30 minutes):

Hamstring/glute raises—one heel on ball, other leg straight up in air

With both heels on ball and hips raised, roll/pull ball in and out

With both heels on ball and hips raised, roll/pull ball in and out—this time feet open/toes facing out (works inner thighs)

Place ball between thighs for ball squeezes

Head and shoulders on ball and weight on heels (toes raised)—hip raises

Outer thigh work: lay on your side, upper body supported on the stability ball and resting on one knee, raise outer leg to side.

The floor work was brutal after the standing pyramid work—I felt every rep (and there were a lot of reps). The worst was the final exercise—the outer thigh work on the ball. I got through the first set, but then we change sides and the leg I had just battered didn’t want to support me! I am not joking, I had to keep stopping the leg lifts on the other thigh—not because the working leg was giving out, but the supporting leg I had just worked did not want to cooperate!

Lower Body premixes: Pyramid up only (3 sets of each exercise) 40 minute, Pyramid down only (3 sets of each exercise) 39 minutes. Both premixes include stability ball work.

Bonus Pyramid Total Body: I rarely review the premixes unless they are adding something new (like a bonus segment) to the workout. That doesn’t mean I don’t do them! I love the premixes and do them frequently. But this split series is so unique and so tough, that I wanted really wanted to give it a try. In fact, I really like the way I used the Pyramid DVD to structure my Pyramid week: Pyramid Upper Body on Monday, Pyramid Lower Body on Wednesday and Pyramid Total Body on Friday. So I decided to go ahead and review the premix, too.

This is a premix combining two workouts, so obviously there are some differences. The first is that you only pyramid up. So you will only do 3 sets of each exercise:

1st set 12 reps of a light weight

2nd set 10 reps of a moderate weight

3rd set 8 reps of a heavy weight

The second difference is there is no abdominal work and no lower body stability ball work. I will admit, I missed that, but it obviously would have made the workout very long. The final difference—all of the exercises are done once, except Leg presses—she returns to those and gives you two fun Leg press sessions. I was glad for that. Without the stability ball leg work the legs aren’t hit as hard—however doing a total of 60 leg presses helps make up for that.

You will be doing the warm up and stretch from Pyramid Lower Body. I adored this premix. I cannot decide which I like best—the split workouts or the total body premix. In fact, I think in the future I will always do a pyramid week so that I can reap the benefits of all three.

Bonus Pyramid Total Body premix is 53 minutes; 5 minute warm up, 44 minute strength training, 4 minute stretch. Though you need a lot of equipment for this workout, you do not need a stability ball. You need a the club step to lay on for upper body work, but you also need a 14 inch high step for lower body work. When I did the split workouts, I used my club step at 12 inches for upper body and my high step at 14 inches for lower body. But that is too much rearranging of equipment/steps for the total body workout. I just used all of my risers and used the club step at 14 inches for everything. You need the barbell with lots of plates for the lower body  moves and lots of dumbbells for the upper body moves.

Lower Body:

Superset squats/plie squats
Leg presses


Chest flys
Bench press



Double arm rows

Lower Body:

Leg presses
Static lunges


Rear delt flys
Side lat raises
Front raises

Lower Body:

Calf raises


Tricep kickbacks
Seated overhead tricep press


Hammer Curls
Traditional bicep curls


25 thoughts on “Cathe’s Pyramid Upper and Lower Body

  1. I’ve been following your blog for a few months and thanks so much for the wonderful reviews and different ideas. I just have 3 dvds of Cathes and would love your input on a rotation. I have the PHA dvd, Upper/Lower Pyramid and Muscle Max which I haven’t tried yet. What would be your suggestions of rotating those dvds with of course some cardio too, maybe Meta-shred(I have both dvds) or even KCM. Thanks for any input. Keep up the awesome work! Much thanks Jackie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It depends on how many times a week you like to strength train. I am a strength training junkie and I workout every day, so I would do something like this:
      Day 1: PHA
      Day 2 Cardio
      Day 3: Pyramid Upper
      Day 4: Pyramid Lower
      Day 5: Cardio
      Day 6 Muscle Max
      Day 7: rest or yoga
      But if you prefer less strength training each week, let me know.


      1. Hi, Looks great! I too, am a workout/strength junkie I definitely will do this rotation, I appreciate it, ty Jackie


        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hi there, Just wondering how long would you do this rotation to see great results: 4 or 8 weeks??? I also plan on purchasing Cathe’s STS in the near future and using BJ Gaddour for some extra cardio too as well as KM. I’m just finishing up a 90 day circuit workout so the heavier weights will be great. Thanks for any input, Jackie


      3. This would be great to do to prepare you for STS. I would say only 4 weeks though then move onto a different type of lifting modality. STS is perfect because it uses all kinds of different lifting techniques.


      4. Thank you so much for this rotation and I have to say I love, love , love Cathes Muscle Max doing it for the first time today. This is a keeper for sure! Are there any other DVDs of Cathes or others that are similar. I have a lot of Jari Loves too which are wonderful. Thanks again!

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Hi there! I am loving the rotation, but I recently was gifted some new Cathe dvds, Jari and Illaria althetic vol 2. My library of Cathe is definitely growing nicely. SO for strength should I continue doing the rotation you set up and switch off with the newer dvds too? BUT, I now own PHA, PYRAMID, MUSCLE MAX, SUPER CUTS AND GIANT SETS, JARI EXTREMELY CHISELED AND ILLARIA ALTHEIC VOL. 2. I am more interested in strength as I see better results, but I know I need the cardio too. You are a blessing and I appreciate any input on this rotation. Thanks for being super helpful !

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Hi Jackie! You can definitely start swapping workouts out to get some variety and challenge your muscles in new ways. Illaria’s workouts will give you cardio with your strength work. So will PHA if you are lifting heavy enough. Actually, Muscle Max and Giant Sets should give you some cardio, too, if you are using challenging weights.

        For cardio, I always enjoy kickboxing because I feel like I am also getting upper, lower and core conditioning along with my cardio. Illaria and Cathe both have great kickboxing workouts.


      7. Hi there! If you had to get one program from Cathe or from Kelly Coffey Meyer which one would it be? At this time I can’t afford the STS so that would be out and I am at the point in my life that I am more interested in weight training and body composition than cardio. I am an advanced exerciser and value your opinion. Thanks for any input and I look forward hearing from you. Jackie


      8. First let me ask you a question. Are you looking for a single DVD with more than one workout on it or just a workout series that is less expensive? I am assuming by the word “program” you meant something less expensive but Kelly Coffey-Meyer only has one program but lots of DVDs that contain two workouts.


      9. Hi Workout series or workout dvds that can be rotated for great results that you may have tried. I’ve read some reviews on Xtrain/Ice thanks


      10. Off the top of my head I recommend getting STS Total Body and using that in a rotation. It is one of the best total body strength workout Cathe has. When you say your interest is in weight training and body composition, I assume you are referring to more muscle mass and low body fat? STS Total Body works well for that because she works your muscles hard and also elevates the heart rate so you are burning fat, too. For split series, I recommend her Ripped with HIIT Back, Biceps & Shoulders / Chest, Tricep & Shoulders / Lift it Hit it Legs and/or the 3 Gym Styles strength workouts (2 upper body split sets and one lower body). You can do a set up like this:
        Day 1: Upper body split
        Day 2: Lower body
        Day 3: Upper body split
        Day 4 & 5 rest, cardio or yoga
        Day 6: Total body
        Day 7: rest, cardio or yoga

        If you want an additional or different total body workout, Cathe’s Strong and Sweaty Giant Sets is also excellent. And if you want a more complete split (using one upper body workout to hit all muscle groups instead of two workouts) Strong & Sweaty Ramped Up Upper Body works great for that.

        And if you want to throw a Kelly Coffey-Meyer into the mix, her best weight training workout is Muscle Up/Lift to be Fit. That is all heavy strength training that you can use as split session workouts or a total body workout.

        Get some or all of these and rotate them. If you are looking to lose fat (not just build muscle) then intense total body strength circuit workouts are the way to go. Then when you want to increase muscle definition, add in the split set workouts.

        I hope this helps!


  2. Well, now that I received a barbell for Christmas (thanks for your advice, in case you don’t recall helping me!!! 🙂 ), I did the lower body workout for the first time as it was intended. I am not as strong as you, so went down 5 lbs from Cathe’s weight on the lunges and squats, but stayed with her on the leg press and deadlifts. But gee! So hard! And I definitely need to speed up on my plate changes.

    I find I am really enjoying revisiting these workouts that include a barbell…it seems so different! And now I wonder why I hesitated for so many years to get one.


    1. Yes, I do remember! And it is surprising what a difference using a barbell instead of weights makes. I was surprised, too, when I finally got mine. And yes! Those leg presses with the barbell are crazy! I actually do the leg presses with dumbbells now so I’m not rushing. But I do everything else with a barbell.


  3. I just had to go back and read your review after doing this workout again this morning. And I so agree on those side leg lifts on the ball! Even though I was not trying to lift my leg high on the first side, I was still allowing my leg to hit the floor between most of the sets on the second side. How does she do it? Is she bionic? 🙂


    1. I don’t know. Cathe is a machine because her floor work always kills me. I have no idea how she manages to do every single rep with perfect form when I have to stop for a few reps just to regroup and carry on!


  4. When she does 25 pounds on the leg press at the beginning … is that the bar and the weights totaling 25 pounds or just the weights totaling 25 pounds?


    1. I’m not sure. I haven’t done that workout in a while and when I do, I don’t use the same weights as she uses anyway. However, for the leg presses I now use dumbbells. I found the barbell for that exercise to difficult to change plates at the same speed as Cathe. Dumbbells made it less stressful! I also use dumbbells for lunges, but I almost always sub dumbbells for lunges that use a barbell because they are more comfortable for me to use for that particular exercise. For everything else tho I used dumbbells.


  5. Hola! I’ve been following your blog for some time now and finally got the bravery to
    go ahead and give you a shout out from Humble Texas! Just
    wanted to tell you keep up the great work!


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