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

How Def Leppard's Phil Collen traded the booze for a better body
Phil Collen became a vegetarian 32 years ago. (Jordi Vidal / Redferns/Getty Images)

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.

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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.

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