How Def Leppard's Phil Collen traded the booze for a better body

Rock 'n' roll taught me it's better to burn out than to fade away, and rock 'n' roll was wrong. Being a musician isn't a career known for promoting health or longevity, but there are those who buck this trend to stay burning bright in the limelight.

At 57, Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen has a muscular frame and rippling abs. Like many a young rocker, he overindulged but then saw how such folly could jeopardize his future and found a better way to party hard: with healthful eating and intense exercise allowing him to rock on through the ages. With Def Leppard's U.S. tour now begun, Collen also has a blues side-project with the band Delta Deep; its debut album arrived Tuesday.

You have a body a 20-year-old would envy. How did the healthy living thing start for you?

It came when I stopped drinking in 1984. It was getting out of hand. I tried to do the social drinking thing, and I couldn't do it. I would start with the odd glass of wine, and then it would be shots of Jack Daniel's by the end of the week. So I thought there could be a problem and I stopped completely. And then there was two extra hours a day because I'd wake up early and not be hung over. So I started jogging along the coast in Ireland.

How did things progress from there?

I'm not running much anymore. I'll occasionally go on a treadmill. At first it was just a hodgepodge of activity. I didn't really know what I was doing. I got into weights but don't go to a gym. I do everything at home.

On tour I do mostly body-weight exercise. I'll just find a bar to do pull-ups on it or do some push-ups. I'll integrate some intense cardio, like skipping rope for a minute and mix in a minute of body-weight exercise. Even the singing is a workout. We shout a lot.

You're into martial arts as well. How did that happen?

I was a huge Bruce Lee fan as a kid and had this idea that it was a dark art that was only taught to certain people. It had this real coolness factor for me, and I was standing outside a dojo in Orange County in 1991 and this guy asked if I was interested. So he brought me inside and taught me how to get out of a stranglehold. It was just such a fun experience that I signed up that day. I tried a lot of different styles of martial arts over the years.

How did your training evolve?

I moved onto Muay Thai, and everything changed because we'd spar two to three times a week, but in 2013 I was getting into the ring and my tendon came off the bone in my hand and I couldn't play guitar.... Now the cardio workout is a mix of things.

It wasn't just exercise, but your diet changed too.

Thirty-two years ago, I became a vegetarian. I always thought it was a bit weird eating dead bodies even though my parents said it was all right. But I saw "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre," and that did it. In the movie, they're doing the same thing to people that they do to animals, and so I gradually got off eating meat.... The health thing came way later. Veganism came four years ago, and it was more of a health decision.

Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and owner of bodyforwife.com.

Here are other musicians who answered five questions:

Opera singer Eric Jordan sings his way through stroke recovery process

Jewel is grounded in Alaska purity, focused on water purity

Jennifer Hudson weighs in on how she lost 80 pounds and keeps them off

 

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