The pomodoro fitness method. Finding focused fitness time for the time deprived. 

Trying to find enough time in the day to fit in everything that you’d like to get done can be tough. I like to call this the work, life, love, leisure struggle. And for the purposes of being awesome it will now be known as the WL3 struggle.

The WL3 struggle is this constant contradiction known as work/life balance. Something you and I discussed in this work life balance myth article. Today I want to teach you about a technique I’ve been using to be more productive with my writing and I know can help you to be more productive with your fitness.

Let me introduce you to my main man Francesco Cirilio and the time management technique he came up with in the late 80’s. Ahh, the 80’s, good times. Hair bands and Full House episodes. What else could you ask for?

His time management strategy is known as the Pomodoro technique. It breaks work into 30 minute intervals where 25 minutes is extremely focused work followed by 5 minutes of rest. The theory behind it is that frequent breaks will help improve mental agility, focus, motivation, and productivity.

I know what you’re thinking. Why is it called Pomodoro? Pomodoro is the singular word in Italian for tomato, and the technique is named after the tomato looking timer that Francesco used as he studied.

Tomato timer…It’s science.

Why are we talking about tomato timers, productivity, and a guy named Francesco? Because one of the biggest reasons you have not reached your fitness goals is because of the lack of time and consistency when it comes to your training and nutrition habits.

The key to success in the fitness game is consistent practice.

Today I’m going to teach you The Pomodoro Fitness Method (PFM) so that you can create more time for your health and get the most out of your training.


The PFM is a super easy strategy to apply to help you get fitter.

1. Decide on the task to be done: Pretty self-explanatory. Decide what the heck you want to get done (exercises, reps, etc…).

2. Set your time to complete the tasks: Traditionally this is 25 minutes of focused work followed by a 5 minute break but I’ll show you some ways you can adjust this to meet your personal time constraints.

3. Work hard: Key word is HARD. You’ll work extremely hard until the time you have specified is up.

4. Take a short break: Usually 3 to 5 minutes but this can be adjusted based on the work interval you’re using.

5. After 4 Pomodori you would take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes. One Pomodori is 25 minutes of work followed by 5 minutes of rest. After 4 cycles of that (or 120 minutes) you would take a 15 to 30 minute break. Now don’t you go panicking on me now. You won’t be working out that long.

The primary focus of the Pomodoro technique is to focus on how you work and not how you organize your work. In the case of fitness this means using the best exercises that provide the most bang for your buck.

No curls for the girls or running 60 minutes at a steady pace on the treadmill. This is about taking the exercises that target large muscle groups so that you can burn the most calories, hit the most muscle fibers, and wake up the bodies natural hormonal response so that you’re building lean muscle and burning body fat.


It works because it touches on basic human psychology, motivation, and energy. It offers a quick work and reward cycle, it helps produce a high quality of focused work, the 25 minute deadline is short enough to keep you from getting distracted. The 25 minute commitment is also short enough so that it helps fight the natural resistance to getting started.

If I asked you to grab your water bottle and hold it out in front of you for the next 60 minutes without putting it down you’d probably look at me like this. If you had not already put the water bottle down sometime during that 60 minutes your shoulder would be on fire.

But what if I asked you to hold the water bottle up for 30 seconds, then put it down for 30 seconds, and repeat for 60 minutes? You’d definitely be able to accomplish that and you would also probably be more willing to try it.

Working in intervals and using well-timed regular breaks asks you to stay disciplined and not motivated, which is a good thing. Being disciplined is a choice. It’s something you control and is an art you can decide to practice or not. Motivation however is not always a choice, it’s typically an outcome based on results, progress, inspiration or desperation.

Working in intervals like this allows you stay consistently productive and highly motivated while avoiding burnout.

Also, Parkinsons law explains how work expands with the time allowed for it. So if you’re given 60 minutes to finish a relatively easy task you’ll probably take the entire 60 minutes to do it. Flashing back to those college days, when you were given 2 weeks to complete a project you probably waited until the last day or 2 to actually do it.

With the Pomodoro technique time is boxed so that you specifically allocated 25 minutes for work before a break.


Maybe the best part to the PFM is that you don’t really need a whole lot.

1. A Timer: Really anything that tells time will work. A clock on the wall, your phone, a stop watch, or maybe a fancy app like the pomodoro timer, pomodoro, or tomato timer. A really good friend that has 25 minutes to spare and feels liked counting off seconds for you.

2. A Body: Preferably your body. Using someone else’s would not only be weird but also less effective as you’ll want to be the one training.

3. A Calendar: Why a calendar? Because you’ll want to measure consistency in some way. Picking up a dry erase calendar like this one or printing out one will also work. 

4. Free weights (optional): This is up to you but you can get a great PFM training session by using your own bodyweight. If you’d like to ramp up the intensity, challenge yourself a bit more, or are a little more advanced than feel free to include some dumbbells, kettle bells, barbells, or cowbells… see what I did there?


Uke 13/52 Crossfit Open 14.5
The PFM is a 25 minute workout broken up into 5, 5-minute intervals. The 5 minute intervals are 4 minutes of work followed by 1 minute of rest.

What exercises should I be doing with the PFM?

To keep this simple you’ll want to get back to the basics. Using the exercises that train the largest muscle groups.

Note: Most of the exercises can be done with your own bodyweight, dumbbells, barbells, or other free weights.

Lower body Pressing

  • Squat
  • Lunges
  • Step Ups
  • Deadlift

Upper body pressing (chest, triceps, and shoulder exercises)

  • Bench presses 
  • Overhead press
  • Dips
  • Push-ups

Upper body pulling (back, biceps, traps)

  • Bent over rows
  • Pull-ups
  • Inverted rows
  • Kettlebell swings

Cardiovascular/Lung suckers

  • Box jumps
  • Broad jumps
  • Sprint (200 meters or less)
  • Burpee
  • Jump rope/double unders
  • Mountain climbers

Now that you’ve got a list of some of the best exercises you can do you’ll want to pick 1 exercise from each section to do for your first 4 minute PFM workout.

For example lets say you choose: Walking lunges, dips, pull-ups, and box jumps.

How many reps do I do for each exercise?

The PFM workouts are designed to be short, intense, and to help you build muscle and lose body fat. You’ll still get strong while doing them but they’re not designed to help you pack on tons of muscle.

You’ll want to keep the reps for each exercise between 6 and 15. This should allow you to progress from one exercise to the next with limited rest and quickly enough to get a few circuits completed in the 4 minute time span.

Note: If you’re doing an exercise like walking lunges and decide to do 6 reps that would mean 6 per leg or 12 steps total.

Using the exercises above lets say you choose to do 6 DB lunges (per leg, 12 total), 6 dips, 6 pull-ups, and 6 box jumps.

For the 4 minutes of work you’ll want to complete as many circuits as possible in 4 minutes of the exercises you’ve selected. One circuit would be equal to 6 DB lunges, 6 dips, 6 pull-ups, and 6 box jumps.

After the 4 minutes of work is you’ll write down how many circuits or in Crossfit lingo, “rounds” you did and rest 1 minute. This is one Pomodori or one PFM circuit. After your 1 minute rest is up you can do 1 of 2 things.

  • Repeat the same circuit starting where you left off. So if you were half way through your thirds circuit and stopped at 3 pull-ups you would start your next PFM by finishing those 3 pull-ups and moving into your 6 box jumps.
  • Choose completely different exercises and perform an entirely different PFM circuit. For example, this time you may decide to do 12 squats, 8 push-ups, 12 kettle bell swings, and 100 meter sprint.

You’ll keep this up until you have done 5 PFM circuits for the day totaling 25 minutes (4 minutes of work + 1 minute of rest = 5 minutes x 5 total circuits = 25 minutes)

It doesn’t matter if you do the same circuit, choose 5 different circuits, or alternate between 2 different circuits. As long as you’re there doing it you win.


Easy Button
If that seems like a lot of work in 25 minutes – you’re right. It absolutely is.

If you’re just starting out, haven’t worked out in a while, or are crunched for time I recommend starting with only 1 or 2 PFM circuits. This would mean that you are training for 5 to 10 minutes total including the 1 minute rest you get.

You can also adjust the reps to fit your skill level or use exercise substitutions like knee push-ups for regular push-ups or body weight lunges instead of DB lunges.

You can make these circuits harder by including more barbells, dumbbells, and free weights into your circuits. Something else you could do is increasing the circuit times past 4 minutes. If you do this don’t get wrapped up in trying to make the workouts 25 minutes exactly.

You could try an 8 minute circuit followed by 2 minutes of rest and then repeat for another 8 minute circuit followed by 2 minutes of rest and then call it a day.

Should I do These PFM Workouts Every Day?

Because these workouts will be very intense full body workouts I would not do more than 2 days in a row without a day off. It’s probably in your best interest to alternate PFM workouts with one day of rest or use your rest day to get in a light jog, row, yoga session, dance class, or maybe even some HIIT training if you’re feeling good enough.


You can use the PFM while as a way to keep you off your bum while at work. Set a timer for 25 minutes or use one of the apps I mentioned earlier. Every 25 minutes take a 5 minute break and use that 5 minutes to be active.

  • Walk the stairs for 5 minutes
  • Stretch for 5 minutes
  • Do some office yoga for 5 minutes
  • Work on your mobility for 5 minutes
  • Meditate for 5 minutes
  • Do a light bodyweight workout for 5 minutes
  • Grab some water and chat for 5 minutes

Because the Pomodoro technique is an indivisible unit of work you’ll need to be disciplined with the 25 minutes of focused work followed by 5 minutes of rest. This means no distractions.

If you happen to be interrupted during the 25 minutes use the I.N.C method to quickly get back on track.

  • I – Inform the interrupter that you are trying to focus for the next 25 minutes and need to stay on task.
  • N – Negotiate and reschedule the interruption.
  • C – Call the person back at a later time.

If that interrupter turns out to be yourself checking email, Facebook, or watching cute cat videos on the internet then quickly write down the distraction you were about to partake in and allow yourself to come back to it during your 5 minute break.


That sort of sounds inappropriate but whatevs, lets just run with it.

So if you’re someone that struggles with consistently getting workouts in each week how confident are you that you could try one PFM circuit 4 days out of the next 7? Just a 4 minute workout and that’s it.

Feeling a little froggy and ready to leap? How about trying 2 PFM circuits 4 out of the next 7 days? That’s just 10 minutes out of your day.

You might be thinking, “10 minutes! Is that really going to do anything?”

Ramit Sethi put it best in a podcast that he did with Tim Ferriss a little while back.

“I recently got a fascinating email from one of my readers. I had emailed my email list, asking

“What’s something you CLAIM is important…but you don’t do?”

She wrote back, “I keep saying I want to run 3x/week, but I can never seem to do it.”

I replied: “Why not start once a week?”

Her response was amazing. “Why would I run once/week? That wouldn’t accomplish anything.”

She would rather dream about running 3x/week than actually run once a week.”

The point is getting started is often the biggest challenge 25, 10, or 5 minutes might not seem like much but if you’re currently doing nothing – it’s something, and that my friend is a big win. Use the momentum of getting started to catapult you to a life long journey of fitness.

And if you’re already an exercising guru than great! Use the PFM method to really push yourself and see how many circuits you can get done in the 25 minutes.