Health isn't an afterthought. Fitness isn't a luxury. For many successful people, health and fitness play a major role in their success. The physical benefits are obvious, but the mental advantages--developing perseverance, resilience, determination, and mental toughness--can be just as important.

This is the second in a series where I follow an incredibly successful person's workout plan for one week. (The first was seven-time Nascar champion Jimmie Johnson.)

The goal is to give you an inside look at how fitness helps drive each person's success...and hopefully inspire you to add daily workouts to your daily routine. After all, if someone like me can do these for seven days...imagine what you can do.

This time it's Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen. Nearly 40 years in, he and the band still play to sold-out arenas. But he does much more than that: like finding time to be the founder and singer-guitarist of Delta Deep. Like producing Tesla's upcoming album.

And even though he's almost 60 years old, like looking the way he does in the photo above.

***

In 1984, Phil decided to cut back on his alcohol intake. He tried "social drinking," but realized that having "an occasional glass of wine soon turned into doing shots of Jack Daniel's."

So he stopped drinking completely, and, as he says, gained a couple hours a day--and had a lot more energy--from waking up earlier without a hangover.

To fill the time, he started jogging. Then he started lifting weights. Then, one day, he wandered into a karate dojo and discovered a love for martial arts, especially Muy Thai kickboxing. Along the way, he became a vegetarian, and seven years ago embraced a vegan diet.

"Sarcopenia [loss of muscle from aging] is just a fact of life," Phil says, "unless you fight it off. I know loads of guys in their 30s who already have back and joint problems. That's the simple reason I try to stay fit."

But there are professional benefits as well. "If I don't work out, my back and legs start to ache. So for me to keep working, I have to work out. But it doesn't have to be a Dorian Gray kind of thing; simply exercising and eating healthy really is the fountain of youth. And it helps with how I look--which, as a performer, is definitely a part of my job."

Unlike Jimmie Johnson's routine, which apart from cycling is very different from what I normally do (I don't run nearly as much, and I hate swimming), some aspects of Phil's fitness program are similar to what I typically do.

For example, our weight training routines are roughly the same: He tends to split workout days into chest and triceps, back and biceps, shoulders and legs, or sometimes shoulders one day and legs the next...and sometimes he mixes things up completely to add variety and use the power of muscle confusion. (He also has to mix things up since he's on the road for a number of months every year; even though most hotels have gyms, the equipment available obviously varies.)

For cardio, when Phil wakes up he typically jumps on a treadmill or exercise bike for 20-plus minutes. Later in the day, he may do another cardio session on a spin bike, doing intervals and simultaneously using light dumbbells for bicep curls, overhead presses, lateral raises...the combination is a very efficient form of cardiovascular and endurance training.

(Just don't let the word "light" fool you: When Def Leppard did their Vegas residency a few years ago, Phil benched 380 pounds--and he only weighs 155. So, yeah.)

But his go-to workout is kickboxing. "I love doing kickboxing drills. All kickboxing, just drills. I kick the torso we bring on tour with us. I love to wail on him. It's great for flexibility, for power, for endurance...and it's great for cardio, too."

Sounds great--but I've never tried kickboxing. Like never ever. Still, how hard could it be?

As you'll soon see, really hard.

Going vegan for a week was less difficult, even though I eat a ton of meat: A couple cans of tuna a day, one or two chicken breasts or pieces of salmon a day...until I tried Phil's diet, I hadn't thought much about how much meat I actually consume, and how difficult it can be to replace all that protein with vegan options.

But not impossible--and, as I learned from Phil, I don't need as much protein as I thought.

We'll take a closer look at Phil's diet later; for now, let's just enjoy the pain of each day's workout. The following is a typical week for Phil; depending on his schedule and travel plans, sometimes he does more, sometimes less.

Monday

Session 1: Morning Cardio

The first thing Phil does when he wakes up around 6 a.m. is a brisk, 22-minute cardio session. Early cardio is great for fat burning, and also improves your mood for up to 12 hours.

Reason enough.

What you choose to do is up to you--treadmill, go for a jog, etc. For indoor cardio, I put a bike on a trainer. Easy.

Session 2: Weight Training

My lifting regimen is very similar to Phil's, so we agreed I would stick to mine since some of the exercises I do help me work around long-term shoulder and knee problems. (Over the years, I've fallen off a number of motorcycles and bicycles, so barbell squats make my knees sound like a popcorn popper, but leg presses do not.)

I typically do every set to failure, starting with a weight I can do 12 times and increasing the weight each set until, on the last set, I can only manage five or six reps. And, of course, the goal is to do more reps on subsequent workouts, increase weight, work to do more reps...because if you aren't constantly pushing, you'll soon plateau and stop improving.

Chest

  • Flat bench: Four sets
  • Incline bench: Four sets
  • Dumbbell flyes: Four sets
  • Decline bench: Two sets

Dips: Four sets, each to failure (on this day, I managed 30 reps, then 26, then 22, then 20.)

Triceps

  • Skull crushers: Four sets
  • Cable pushdowns: Four sets
  • Close-grip barbell press: Four sets

Core

​I've been really enjoying (at least the benefits of) the core routine I learned from Jimmie Johnson, so I used that--which turned out to be a foolish move, as you'll soon see.

  • Bicycle abs: To fatigue--shoot for 120 to 130 counting both sides
  • Rocking chair: 30 reps
  • Crunches, feet planted: 30 reps
  • Crunches, feet elevated: 30 reps
  • Superman, with a two-second hold at contraction: 30 seconds
  • Bird dogs: 30 seconds each side
  • Planks: :40 elbow plank, :20 right side, :20 left side, :20 reverse. (Perform twice)

Session 3: Kickboxing

Here's where it got interesting. I've never kickboxed, so I found an ex Muy Thai fighter who is in the process of starting a gym; because he's working with clients on the side, he asked that I not use his name.

We started with round kicks on a punching bag. If you keep your kicks low, they aren't too hard.

At least the first few aren't too hard. In no time at all, my quads started to burn. Then my core started to weaken. Like swinging a baseball bat, kicking with proper form engages a ton of core. Then I started feeling pain in places I don't usually notice: calves, hips, the balls of my feet, that little muscle that connects your legs to the front of your hips (that hurts when you do sit-ups)....

Just as bad, I was breathing like a runaway freight train. Kicking properly, with controlled power, takes a huge amount of energy. I'm not sure which felt worse: my failing muscles or my failing cardio.

And that was just after a series of round kicks.

I'll spare you all the details, mainly because if you decide to try kickboxing you need to find a skilled instructor who will help you develop correct form and fundamentals. Punching properly requires balance and footwork. So does kicking. Going to a gym and wailing away on a bag will not only do you little good, it's also likely to get you hurt. Fail to line up punches correctly and your wrists and shoulders will never forgive you.

So for the next 30 minutes I did round kicks, front kicks, side kicks, knee strikes, and a variety of punches and elbow strikes. And yes, I did take a few 30-second rest breaks. (OK, more than a few.)

Kickboxing is hard. I left feeling totally wrung out--and dreading the soreness I knew I would feel the next day.

Tuesday

Session 1: Morning Cardio

Yep. I woke up really sore. Back, legs, core, shoulders...yikes.

Session 2: Weight Training

Back

  • Pullups: Four sets, 15 reps each set
  • Lat pulldowns: Four sets
  • Barbell rows: Four sets
  • Close grip pulldowns: Four sets
  • Standing lat pulldowns: Two sets

Biceps

  • Dumbbell curls: Four sets
  • Barbell preacher curls: Four sets
  • Incline dumbbell curls: Four sets

Core

Not me. Not today. Earlier in the day, I sneezed and my abs screamed in protest. Kickboxing is a major core workout.

Speaking of which....

Session 3: Kickboxing

Let's just say this session sucked. I was sore and my muscles were weak and my form was pitiful. Evidently, that's to be expected, but even so, it wasn't fun.

But I soldiered through, reminding myself that suffering, especially early suffering, always results in progress.

Wednesday

Session 1: Morning Cardio

Oddly enough, I had already begun to look forward to doing cardio as soon as I woke up. Well, not the cardio itself, but the way I felt afterwards. I felt more energized and enthusiastic; instead of easing into my day, I felt like I was hitting the ground running.

It's very cool. Try it. I can't promise you'll like how you feel while you're doing it, but I can promise that afterwards, you'll be glad you did.

Session 2: Weight Training

Legs

  • Leg presses: Four sets
  • Leg extensions: Four sets
  • Leg curls: Four sets
  • Walking dumbbell lunges: Four sets
  • Calf raises: Four sets

Shoulders

  • Dumbbell press: Four sets
  • Lateral raises: Four sets
  • Front raises: Four sets
  • Shrugs: Four sets

Thursday

Session 1: Morning Cardio

The toughest thing about morning cardio is ignoring that little voice that says, "You don't really have to do this now...." So I made it simple: I placed shorts, socks, shoes, and a T-shirt on the floor by my bed. When I woke up, I put them on, got on the bike (where the night before I left a towel and a full water bottle), and boom.

If you struggle to stay on course, make it really hard not to stay on course. Eliminate every temptation and choice you possibly can. The easiest routines to follow are those you can perform almost without thinking.

Session 2: Weight Training

Chest and Triceps

This was another chest and triceps day, but I substituted dumbbells for the barbell on flat and incline bench, and swapped cable crossovers for dumbbell flyes.

I also did different triceps exercises: dumbbell kick-backs, triceps extensions on a triceps machine, and triceps presses with a barbell.

Variety, baby.

Session 3: Kickboxing

Wonder of wonders. Time and repetition--and muscles that have started to adapt--resulted in better balance and rhythm. My form, while far from perfect, had definitely improved. As a result, I punched and kicked with more power: not from increased strength, but from generating greater force through my hips and core. (Leg strength--or arm and shoulder strength--is only a small piece of the power puzzle.)

And while kickboxing is still a killer cardio workout, the small improvements in form let me use energy more efficiently and make cardio a little less of a factor.

So, while the light at the end of the Muy Thai tunnel is still impossibly small...I can at least see a faint glow.

Friday

Session 1: Morning Cardio

​Session 2: Weight Training

Back and Biceps

More exercise swaps. I did chin-ups, dead lifts, barbell rows, lat pull downs, and T-bar rows. Then I did barbell curls, preacher curls (I love preacher curls), and concentration curls.

Session 3: Kickboxing

And then I regressed. I was really sore and felt weak and struggled to maintain proper form.

Hey, it happens.

Saturday

Session 1: Morning Cardio

Did I mention I love some quick morning cardio?

Session 2: Weight Training

Legs and Shoulders

I did trap bar dead lifts (great for legs and back, and they don't hurt my knees), hack squats, single leg bench lunges (also called Bulgarian split squats), step-ups with dumbbells, and seated calf raises.

For shoulders, I did barbell overhead presses, Arnold presses, lateral raises, cable face pulls, and shrugs.

And then I sat around for a couple hours dreading the kickboxing session to come.

Session 3: Kickboxing

But I shouldn't have. This day was awesome. My footwork was better, my combinations were better, and I stayed better balanced, mostly because of improved footwork, I found it easier to flow from kicks to strikes without thinking too much about my form...it was really fun.

That's why Phil likes kickboxing so much: Not only is it a great workout, it's fun.

Can't beat that.

Diet

You don't need me to explain the ins and outs of a vegan diet, much less the benefits. Other people do that much better.

But I did try to mimic some of what Phil does. He and his wife Helen (who is delightful) particularly like acai bowls. The day I spoke with him, they had just arrived at a venue and made a mango, blueberry, acai, apple juice, and cashew milk bowl; sometimes they mix in bananas, flax seeds, or coconut.

Also, "Helen makes great wraps," Phil says. "Or she'll make a big burrito with avocado, mixed greens, tempe, and a little salsa. That does the trick."

He's also big on green smoothies. "I have friends who have tried J.J. Smith's green smoothie cleanse, and they've lost over 20 pounds in 10 days. We'll do that as a kind of a snack, using things like spinach, blueberries, water, flax seed, mango...."

As for protein, "I find I only need extra protein when I'm lifting heavy," Phil says. "So, after a workout, I'll do a protein powder, but that's it. If you're thoughtful about it, you can get plenty of protein on a vegan diet."

I wasn't particularly thoughtful, but I did try. I didn't crave meat, but I did miss the simplicity of grabbing some tuna and barley and a small salad. Sticking to a vegan diet takes a fair bit of planning, at least for me. But I did like the bowls I made, and enjoyed the burritos...so I'll be adding them to my normal diet.

That won't make me a vegan, but it will add some much-needed variety--and nutrients--to my diet.

What I Learned

One thing I didn't do is bang out 150 pushups before hitting the stage three or four nights a week. I'm not a rock star, don't need to get my juices flowing, don't need to get pumped up to make a killer first impression...so I let that part go. (Besides, I've done a few pushups in my day.)

But I did learn that morning cardio is the absolute best way to start the day. If you try nothing else from Phil's workout, try that. You'll get your day going faster, you'll feel more productive right away, will really get your productivity ball rolling, and it will help you be in a better mood all day.

This will too:

Kickboxing was also eye-opening. Balance, flexibility, flow...all are things we lose as we grow older, and all are things kickboxing provides--in spades.

Plus, once you gain just a teeny bit of skill, kickboxing starts to be really fun. If you want a cardio workout that also uses every muscle in your body, kickboxing is for you.

Just make sure you train with someone who can help you learn the fundamentals of good form--otherwise you'll probably get frustrated and quit. (That's true of many forms of exercise; you don't need a trainer forever, but a little early advice goes a really long way.)

So, in addition to the swimming I've begun to do as a result of my "week of Jimmie," I'll also add at least one session of kickboxing to my weekly routine. It's a high intensity, high cardio, very fun way to stay in shape.

And that's the best thing I learned from my week of channeling my inner Phil: Trying new things, even if they're hard things, is not just good for you.

It might also be really fun.

Published on: Jun 1, 2017