CV Running Guide: What Is Critical Velocity Running?

There are roughly a dozen different types of running workouts. From track intervals to threshold workouts, hill sprints to tempo runs, running coaches and exercise physiologists have developed a relatively extensive library of types of running workouts, each designed to offer specific and unique physiological and psychological benefits.

One of the less commonly referenced running workouts is critical velocity training, also called CV running for short. While fewer coaches and runners actively use the term critical velocity training in their training programs, a surprising number are actually unknowingly performing CV running workouts.

Many runners are still missing out on the potential performance benefits of incorporating critical velocity training into their workout plan, as the general awareness of this effective running workout is still lacking. 

For this reason, we’ve compiled a CV running guide to introduce runners to critical velocity training and give actionable advice for how to start adding CV running to your training program.

We will cover: 

  • What is Critical Velocity Training?
  • How Is Critical Velocity Training Effective?
  • Benefits of Critical Velocity Training for Runners
  • Does Critical Velocity Training Work?
  • Examples of Critical Velocity Running Workouts
  • Progressing Critical Velocity Running Workouts

Let’s see what CV running is all about! 

A woman performing critical velocity running, cv running for short, or running fast.

What is Critical Velocity Training?

Critical Velocity training, CV training for short, is a training method created by Tom Schwartz while working as the Assistant Coach at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. He defined critical velocity as a “somewhat hard” pace that the runner can sustain for half an hour. 

Therefore, critical velocity training involves any running workout done at a pace that the runner could hold running at maximal effort for 30 minutes. In this way, CV running can be equated to how threshold training involves any workout where threshold pace is used, keeping in mind that threshold pace can be sustained all out for an hour of running.

Critical velocity is thus a harder effort than threshold effort but easier than 5k effort for most runners. CV running can be equated to an effort level around 90 percent of your VO2 max

In contrast, the lactate threshold occurs around 83-88% of your VO2 max. Therefore, your threshold run pace would be the pace you are running at 83-88% of your VO2 max, which is why you can sustain threshold pace for an hour and critical velocity running pace for only 30 minutes.

A woman running fast down the road.

How Is Critical Velocity Training Effective?

Schwartz has primarily credited the fitness improvements from critical velocity training to the improvements CV running induces in the aerobic capacity of Type IIa muscle fibers.

Type IIa muscle fibers are fast-twitch muscle fibers with the specific property of being very adaptable. They can be manipulated through specific training to function in a certain way. 

If you do a lot of sprint training, for example, these muscle fibers can function more like Type IIx fast-twitch fibers. If you do more aerobic training and sustained effort like CV running workouts, the Type IIa muscle fibers can become more efficient at extracting and consuming oxygen.

In turn, these adaptations will help you sustain harder efforts for longer distances without producing the fatiguing byproducts of glycolysis and anaerobic metabolism, meaning that you can sustain a faster “hard cruising speed.”

A trail runner running fast.

Benefits of Critical Velocity Training for Runners

The benefits of CV running for endurance athletes include the following:

  • Increasing oxidative capacity of Type IIa muscle fibers
  • Improving aerobic metabolic capacity at harder efforts
  • Increasing cardiovascular fitness
  • Building mental strength at “comfortably hard” paces
  • Reducing stress on the body relative to VO2 max intervals
A trail runner running hard.

Does Critical Velocity Training Work?

While there is still a relative lack of scientific evidence specifically investigating the effectiveness of CV running, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that critical velocity training workouts can improve distance running and triathlon performance.

For example, in 2019, Schwartz implemented CV running into the training programs of athletes he coached, three of which met the World Athletics Championships 5000m qualifying standard of 13.22.50, including Sam Parsons from Germany, Jordan Gusman from Malta, and Drew Hunter from the US. 

Another standout using CV running is professional triathlete Morgan Caldwell Pearson from the USA.

Examples of Critical Velocity Running Workouts

Eager to give critical velocity training a try? Here are a few CV running workouts:

A woman running on a road with a grey background.

#1: Fartlek-Style Critical Velocity Training Workouts

You can skip the track altogether for these CV running workouts and pick your favorite running loop, roads, trail, park, treadmill, or otherwise.

  • Warm up 2 miles jogging at an easy pace
  • 5–7 x 3 minute at critical velocity training pace with 1 minute jog recovery in between each 
  • Followed by 5 x 45 seconds at mile pace

Here is another fartlek option:

  • Warm up 2 miles jogging at an easy pace
  • 16 x 1 minute at critical velocity training pace with 1 minute jog recovery in between each 
  • 6 x 30 seconds at mile pace
  • 1 mile cool down

Or, try this challenging CV workout:

  • Warm up 2 miles jogging at an easy pace
  • 5-6 x 5 minute at critical velocity training pace with 90 seconds jog recovery in between each 
  • 6 x 30 seconds at mile pace
  • 1 mile cool down
A group of runners running on an indoor track.

#2: Critical Velocity Training Workout for Runners Trying to Break 22 Minutes in a 5k

  • Warm up 2 miles jogging at an easy pace
  • 5 x 1km at in 4:30/km (7:14.52/mile pace) with 200m jog recovery in between each
  • 6 x 200m accelerations, starting at 5k pace and ending each acceleration at 800m pace

To adjust for a faster or slower pace, use the calculator on Schwartz’s website here.

#3: Beginner CV Running Workout

Here is a critical velocity training workout for beginners:

  • Warm up 1 mile jogging at an easy pace
  • 8 x 1 min at CV running pace, 90 seconds recovery jog or walk
  • 4 x 15 seconds sprints with full recovery
  • 1 mile cool down jog
A runner running down the coast on a cobblestone road.

Progressing Critical Velocity Running Workouts

Like any other type of running workout, critical velocity training workouts should progress in difficulty over time as you get fitter and more accustomed to handling CV training pace.

Here is an example of an eight-week progression of critical velocity training workouts:

  • Week 1: 12 x 400 meters at CV running pace with 90 seconds recovery 
  • Week 2: 6 x 800 meters at CV running pace with 90 seconds recovery 
  • Week 3: 5 x 1,000 meters at CV running pace with 90 seconds recovery 
  • Week 4: 5 x 1,200 meters at CV running pace with 90 seconds recovery 
  • Week 5: 5 x 1,000 meters at CV running pace with 60 seconds recovery 
  • Week 6: 5 x 1,200 meters at CV running pace with 60 seconds recovery 
  • Week 7: 2 x 1,600 meters at CV running pace with 90 seconds recovery, 2-3 x 1,000 meters at CV running pace with 60 seconds recovery
  • Week 8: 4 x 1,600 meters at CV running pace with 90 seconds recovery

Note: Follow each workout with 4-6 fast strides or accelerations, 50-200 meters each. 

Ready to give CV training a try? Let us know how it goes!

If you would like to look into adding other types of running workouts to your training plan, check out:

Interval Training

Hill Sprints

Threshold Runs

A woman running forcefully down the road.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, and contributes to several fitness, health, and running websites and publications. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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