Back In The Weight Room With A Health Challenge? Case In Point An Expanding Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Hi folks, welcome! It’s good to be here.

Got to love the weight room.

Got to love the weight room.

You can ask for advice, but you would still be well advised to think through your personal situation when it comes to exercise with a dangerous health challenge.

As I entered the weight room this morning, which felt great, I started to calculate: what can I do to maintain my general level of fitness, prior to impending surgery, that would not put my abdominal aortic aneurysm at risk (now sitting nicely at 5.0+ cm), whilst providing some support to the outer aortic wall, and have me more fit for surgery?

If Bill can do it, surely I don't have to sit on the couch and cry like a baby? I see these guys at Ironman races, often coming by me, and they impress the hell out of me.

If Bill can do this, surely I don’t have to sit on the couch and cry like a baby? I see these guys at Ironman races all the time, often coming by. They impress the hell out of me.

Here is what I came up with:

  1. Core exercises to gently maintain intra-abdominal pressure, which should support the aneurysm, whilst taking care to avoid increasing lower abdominal pressure markedly. Largely abdominal muscle work, but not anything as violent as a crunch.
  2. Standard arm (sitting roll ups, bicep curl, kick backs with care), shoulder (shrugs, dumbbell raises), chest (bench press with feet on bench, light fly), and lat (standing cords, sitting pull) exercises generally confined to sitting or bench, but nothing that involves bending at the waste, such as a reverse fly. Oh! Yes! I forgot dips!
  3. Sitting calf raises and gentle single leg standing calf raises, with special reference to strengthening my arches, needed for when I return to attempting another Boston qualifier.

    Chez Ollie If you really want to know how to lift weights, read this guy’s early books. He was a remarkable athlete at the time.

  4. Quad extensions, but with light weights, lots of reps, plus adductor and abductor machine, with light weights lots of reps.
  5. Not sure about a safe hamstring exercises – any ideas?
  6. Sit when the gym is quiet and just appreciate being alive.

That, plus walking the dogs and effortless swimming, should keep me toned until my leak is fixed. Remember, training for surgery could be more important than training for the Ironman. You can always stop and walk away from a triathlon (which is sometimes the best thing to do).

All ideas and input would be much appreciated, as I keep FatOldDog at bay.

-k @FitOldDog



  1. Glenn Jones says

    Hi Kevin,

    Your aortic aneurysm is a somewhat unique problem when it comes to selected weight training options. I must confess that I would probably adopt a conservative approach to exercise selection, especially when it comes to core strength exercises. What thoughts did you have about isometric options instead of weight resistance?

    • Hi Glenn, isometric exercises crossed my mind for anyone really stuck in bed, and for my core exercises, just mild contractions. Umh! Maybe that’s the way to go for hamstrings, pushing back against the bench? This could also be applied to pecs and so-forth. For core, I was really considering Gyrokinesis movements, with a low amplitude of movement, to activate my core gently. I will explore all of this in the weight room, and see how it goes. Only two weeks until I meet my Cleveland surgeon, also a marathoner, fortunately. Yes! Isometrics is a good way to go, combined with stretching/lengthening workouts afterwards. Thanks, -kevin

    • Hi Glenn, come to think of it, I suspect that it is much more common than people realize, or they wouldn’t have invented the AortaScan machine: Make sure you get yours checked. Cheers, Kevin

      • Glenn Jones says

        Hi Kevin,

        From everything I have read, an aortic aneurism is a particularly dangerous condition with the potential for a dissection being high. From my understanding, suffering a dissection is usually fatal. Hence our concern for your welfare.

        I had mine checked by MRI several years ago as part of a process of elimination that led (eventually) to my diagnosis of a blockage of my LAD coronary artery. Mind you, I was sent home from an emergency room in the interim because of the incompetence of the a doctor who diagnosed a potential dissection (extreme pain) but didn’t think it was worth the time and effort to actually confirm his diagnosis. My personal physician was livid when I consulted him shortly thereafter. Thankfully the subsequent MRI cleared me.

        I went through four years of mis-diagnosis of chest pain because I was ‘so fit’ that exercise stress tests repeatedly masked my real problem. It was the gold standard angiogram that produced the definitive result.

        All that said, you are clearly dedicated to your fitness and I understand and relate to that. I am making my way back after the angioplasty and Amy back bench pressing, dead lifting and power cleaning. No squatting quite yet. I want to be around for the long time,not just the good time so I am being very measured in my rehab. You have obviously been living with your condition for some years and know it better than we do. Nonetheless, I am sure that you understand our concern for your health. Good luck with managing your condition and I am sure you realise by now that you are in our thoughts and prayers.

        • Hi Glenn,

          I sure appreciate your support.

          Yep! An abdominal aortic aneurysm (the silent killer) is a dangerous beast, but you can’t become a prisoner of the thing or you throw your life away. One does not have to take unnecessary risks, however, so understanding the condition is critical for the patient. Right now, I’m in a holding pattern, preparing for the next round of surgery, which will probably be a fenestrated stent extension (made in Australia, believe it or not) on the left branch of my current stent (a huge and life-saving piece of equipment). I can’t do nothing exercise-wise as I suspect that would be poor preparation for the rigors of surgery, but I have to avoid increasing my blood pressure or putting undue pressure on my lower abdomen until the correction is made. I think about what I’m doing as I live in this odd limbo – one mistake and pop, that’s it. For instance, I listed the abductor and adductor machines as probably safe, sat in one yesterday, thought about the mechanics a bit more, and took them off of the list.

          I have an appointment in the Cleveland Clinic for the 20th for a full workup, and the surgeon I’m seeing is a marathoner (tweeted me to ask if I did the NYC marathon, which of course I missed – bummer), which is great – she understands my desire to train. I think that it is critical to find physicians who understand your particular life-style, be it running or painting. A decision about the surgical approach will then be made, and finally my aneurysm will be once again depressurized, and will start to shrink.

          The biggest challenge in such situations is fear, which really does not help, it just encourages caution. Dissipate the fear and let the logic circuits to take over.

          Why waste these lovely North Carolina fall days in a state of fear, which can be eliminated by meditation. You’ll die one day, anyway (death rate stable at 100%), though I did update my will to put that worry to rest.

          Thanks so much for your support, in this unfolding personal drama, or should I say life lesson?

          Your story is an interesting one. Want to write about it on this blog, which is all about encouraging people to overcome such challenges by taking charge of their health care? You have an inspiring story, my friend.



          • Glenn Jones says

            Hi Kevin,

            You seem to have things in perspective. I take my hat off to you re the NYC Marathon. My limit is a third of a marathon which I do once a year -the Sydney City2Surf. I have been doing it off and on for years and completed my 17th race in August this year just five months after having the cardiac stent inserted.

            My wife thought I was crazy, but I had a plan which involved just finishing and enjoying the day, rather than trying to beat my best time. Doing so was an achievement way more satisfying than any PB could ever be!

            Ambition is a relative thing, but you already know that as your plan shows all too clearly. The idea is to know the limitations you have on the day and work to them. I remember when I was young thinking that every injury was major and signalled the possible end to my sporting career. Eventually one comes to realise that if one is smart and careful, there is always a post-injury future.

            My story is more a series of anecdotes over the years. My good fortune has benn to recognised my good fortune. I worked out many years back that I could go through the rest of my life without so much as winning a raffle or a card game and still be the luckiest person I know.

            Sorry to sound cryptic, but I promise to elaborate in the near future. In the meantime, good luck to you my friend. I shall be following your progress on the road to recovery with much interest.

            Best rgds, Glenn

  2. I would leave out the core exercises. Just do arms and legs, and not too strenuously. I don’t think you should have even gone into that place. But I suppose swimming would be O.K.

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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.