At 63, Def Leppard’s Phil Collen Might Be the World’s Fittest Rock Star

The guitarist tells us how he got shredded in five easy steps

April 15, 2021 9:13 am
a mash-up pic of Def Leppard guitarist superimposed over the album cover of the band's 1992 album Adrenalize
Phil Collen, the often-shirtless guitarist for Def Leppard
(Phil Collen) Helen L. Collen (Album cover) Mercury Records

“This is the best I’ve ever looked.”

Phil Collen has been with Def Leppard since 1982. For most of those years, the guitarist has been noticeable on stage not just for his technical prowess, but also for, well, his abs. There’s a reason he’s always shirtless.

But Covid hit rock stars like everyone else, so Collen had to decamp to Los Angeles last year and learn to stay in shape at home without his usual routines and far less access to private trainers and gyms. All while dealing with a nagging injury.

The 63-year old began the pandemic by issuing a 30-day fitness challenge last summer on YouTube — which he then later tweaked for reasons we’ll discuss below. While Collen has extensively studied kickboxing and Muay Thai and has also been a vegan for decades, but his recent health ramp-up involved much simpler adjustments to his diet and exercise program. 

“Right now I don’t feel drained or tired, and I used to work out way more,” he says. “Now I just do about 45 minutes a day and maybe a little cardio.” Which is a far cry from his old routine, which involved a grueling three-month pre-tour fitness plan. “My Muay Thai coach would train me like I was going into a fight, 12 three-minute rounds in pads, then 30-second breaks but I’d have to do push-ups during the breaks. That’s a hard routine to maintain.” 

Translation: There’s nothing in his routine you can’t do as well, except sell out a stadium tour. Five workout tips from Collen, below. (Also, side note: Yes, he’s working on new music. And if you ever get the chance, the guitarist fronted an unlikely collaboration with Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook a few years back called Man Raze that is quite good.)

Make adjustments when needed

Collen had tennis elbow, and was forced to pare down this normal workout. “I went from doing everything in a full gym to just a few exercises,” he says. He focused on 3-4 things he felt comfortable with, which included modifed bench presses, push-ups, cable crunches and MAG grip pulldowns along with some work with bands and dumbbells. 

Embrace your idols

For the Def Leppard guitarist, that was Bruce Lee. “I’ve always done martial arts — I have two black belts,” he explains. “And I looked at Bruce Lee and noticed he was about my height and 140 lbs. So I targeted that.” One year-long workout plan later, Collen (who was at 163 lbs last summer) is now rockin’ at a svelte 138.

Make your friends and job part of your fitness routine

When Def Leppard had a residency in Las Vegas the other year, the band and crew would actually get together and work out behind the stage during the day. “You would think rock stars shouldn’t have to do this stuff, but we all did it and it became this really cool, social thing.”

Phil Collen of Def Leppard performing in 2015
Phil Collen in shirtless mode, circa 2015
BangorArt/Flickr Creative Commons

Unfortunately, diet is important

“I got a phone app to count calories,” says Collen (see, rock stars are just like you!). “Thankfully, I could eat as many veggies and as much fruit as I wanted. I didn’t get cravings and I still had occasional cheat days.” While Collen did adjust his diet last summer, one thing didn’t stick: His pledge to give up coffee. “I’m actually drinking a cup now while talking to you, so that obviously went out the window.” 

Embrace the new, fit you

Phil Collen looks great at 63, and he has no problem going shirtless as often as possible. “I get hot on stage, but also, I do look good!” he says, laughing. “Maybe it’s shallow, but that’s OK. I’m a performer, musician and artist. And performing is this whole thing. On stage, I want to look like a rock star.”

To sum up: “Just do research and get to know your own body,” says Collen. “Always evaluate yourself. What worked last year might not work this year. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, you gotta figure it out. Navigate with the tools you’ve got.”

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