The Wrath of Khan

The enduring comeback of bodybuilding’s underground sensation Zack “King” Khan


The Wrath of Khan

If this article’s title conjures up images of a vengeful Zack Khan knocking over buildings and flinging cars as horrified bystanders scatter away from him like mice, you don’t know Zack. Despite his monstrous image in ads and articles, King Khan is the gentlest of giants. His soft-spoken humility is tempered further by a British accent as thick as porridge. But don’t confuse cordiality with contentment. A fire rages just beneath the surface, stoked by a day in June 2010 that altered the trajectory of his bodybuilding career and by images of Joel Stubbs and Jean-Pierre Fux, two colossi who endured the same injury and were rendered “legless” afterward.

As we’ll soon learn, King Khan already unleashed his vengeance on a certain hack squat machine. Eventually, he intends to make all who’ve doubted his ability to return feel the sting of comeuppance. However, it’s his own muscles that suffer his greatest punishments. The wrath of Khan was and is felt most acutely by his legs, first in his quest to merely move about normally again and now as he battles to regrow them to abnormal and decidedly monstrous dimensions.

Let’s go back to June 8, 2010, when you ruptured the tendons in both knees hack squatting with 700 pounds. Did you learn any lessons from that experience?

I don’t know what lessons I should learn. People say to me I must have used too much weight, but I’d done that weight dozens of times before. I’d done it before for 15 reps. And there was no sign of it [the injury] coming. I blasted up the first two reps easy, and then on the third rep I heard a big pop and one leg gave out. All of a sudden, the weight came down on me, and then the other leg popped because I had all the weight on it. If I had some signs, I wouldn’t have gone as heavy. You listen to your body and follow the signs.

In the aftermath of the June 10 surgery to reattach the tendons, what did you think about your bodybuilding future?

Lying in the hospital, I thought everything was over. I’d lose my sponsorships, and I’d never compete again—and this after I’d just gotten my pro card [by winning the 2009 IFBB British Championships]. I just kept thinking about Jean-Pierre Fux and what happened to him. [Once a top pro, Fux ruptured both knee tendons squatting 700 at a photo shoot in 2002. He competed only once afterward and failed to place.] His pictures came to mind, and I wondered if I’d even be able to train again.

What were your legs like during those first weeks of recovery?

Just getting up [out of the hospital bed] and going to the bathroom was the hardest thing I’d ever done until then. I couldn’t bend my legs at all. I had braces on for eight weeks. The first time I went to the toilet, I was trying to balance myself to stand up and do what I had to do, and I fell to the floor and all this blood started gushing out of my wounds again. It just hit me then. Look at me. I’m disabled! And afterward, I used to wait hours and hours, holding it in, before I used the toilet.