For Def Leppard’s Phil Collen, making muscles is as important as making music

Most people know Phil Collen as the lead guitarist for Def Leppard. But once his shirt comes off, Collen is known for something else -- an amazing set of abs. These days Collen gets asked about his fitness routine more than his music, and it’s easy to see why. Not every 53-year-old can boast a near-perfect physique, especially while maintaining a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.

But the Orange County-based Collen may not be your average rocker. He’s been sober for 23 years and a vegetarian for 27 (he recently became a vegan). Fitness followed sobriety, and eventually Collen earned a black belt in Kempo Karate. Six years ago he started training with Muay Thai kickboxing champion Jean Carrillo, and Collen is now spreading the word about healthful lifestyles.

Collen and Carrillo will be among the guests at the Los Angeles Fitness Expo this weekend at the L.A. Convention Center. We spoke with the musician recently about his exercise routine and why he’s on a mission to get the world fit.

Q: Many people, including First Lady Michelle Obama, are talking about the importance of eating healthfully and exercising regularly. What is the message you’re trying to get out, and what makes yours unique?


A. I think my experiences help. The big difference is that I’m walking what I talk. I’m in really good shape at the moment, and I think you have to be if you’re preaching to the world; otherwise people are not going to believe it. I was never a steroid user, and I think that message is pretty cool as well.

I think you have to lead by example -- that’s what I’ve experienced with everything, including guitar playing. At this point I get asked more about health than anything to do with the guitar or music. But I’m not doing anything weird; I’m just doing normal things, and it’s so easy.

Everyone’s talking about childhood obesity because it’s such a big deal. But it’s not rocket  science. We feed our kids a lot of junk and we’re surprised by their response. It’s great that we can talk about this and make people aware and mindful of what they’re putting in their bodies. I love junk food, but I don’t eat it every day.

Q: Do you think you have a unique audience to reach, since you have fans in their teens and 20s as well as people your age?


A. I try to get the message out to everyone, but usually people wait until something nasty happens (to get healthy). Unfortunately people only go to the doctor when they’re sick, and they’re there about a cure rather than prevention.

Q. Does being in shape make performing on stage easier?

A. I can pretty much play every day of the year and it’s not a problem. I don’t get tired at all. (Fitness) is an everyday thing, but you don’t have to go crazy. If you’re going to eat something that’s unhealthy, be aware of it, then go back to eating something healthy.

Q. What’s your fitness routine line before a tour and in the off-season?

A. About 12 weeks before a tour I’ll start training, and the last eight weeks I’ll work out two to three times a day doing weights, jumping rope, hopping on the spin bike. The rest of the time I work out three to four times a week and try to eat OK. Jean (Carrillo) does come with me on tour, and we work out -- there are so many different ways to do it, and switching it out makes it fun.

We’ve been in places where there’s just a bar or a beam to hang from, but you can do push-ups or pull-ups or do bits on a chair. You can have the most fantastic workout if you use your imagination.

Q. You’ve been sober a long time, but at this point in your life does being in shape factor into you maintaining your sobriety?

A. It did initially. It’s been 23 years since I’ve had a drink. When I got sober, I started jogging because I had two to three extra hours a day. I hated jogging, but then I got into things I liked doing, like kickboxing.


Q. What appealed to you about that, and what do you like now about Muay Thai?

A. I love the science of it. I can appreciate how the training works on the body. Once I started doing it I realized that you can really get into it. You should incorporate whatever excites you -- playing tennis, running. Whatever floats your boat.