A little after 6 o’clock Monday morning, Kyle Rudolph pawed off his iPhone alarm, then braced for the pain, not knowing how bad it would be until his feet touched the floor.
About 15 hours earlier, down in Jacksonville, he had played 64 offensive snaps out of a possible 66. The final one was a kneeldown that sealed a win over the Jaguars.
The 27-year-old tight end had a 44-yard reception on the game’s first play, getting twisted to the turf at the end of it. And his 3-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter helped put the game away. In between, Rudolph locked out linebackers on running plays and a few times threw his broad shoulders into defensive ends while leaking out on routes.
After stretching his long legs in first class on the 1,176-mile flight back to Minneapolis, Rudolph cleaned several inches of snow off his truck in the Winter Park parking lot and headed home to watch Christmas movies with his wife, Jordan, on Freeform.
As far as his Sundays go, this one did not seem to be too taxing. But Rudolph didn’t know for sure until Monday morning, when he climbed out of bed and took stock of what ached. This Monday, his pain and discomfort level was only a three or four out of 10.
“I felt pretty good,” Rudolph said. “Some Mondays you kind of wonder how you’re going to be able to play a game the following Sunday.”
Over the next 150 hours, Rudolph would be preparing his body to do it all over again this Sunday, when the desperate Vikings host the Indianapolis Colts.
It would be a few more days until he felt like himself again, relatively speaking, of course. After 13 meaningful games filled with high-speed collisions and with at least three more left, Rudolph won’t be 100 percent any time soon. But a weekly routine without much variation has allowed him to play every game, many at a high level.
As Rudolph got his body right for Sunday’s game against the Colts, the sixth-year tight end agreed to give the Star Tribune a detailed look at his personal recovery process.
It started early Monday, the most important day for a player besides game day.
On a typical Monday, Vikings veterans don’t have to report to Winter Park until their morning lift at 9:30. But Rudolph got into the building early enough to scarf down a healthy breakfast, then spend a half-hour alternating between the cold tub and the hot tub, three minutes in one then three in the other.
“I think the contrast is good to help with the bumps and bruises,” he said. “Plus, I’ve got to lift, so I don’t want to just sit in the cold tub and get stiff.”
The 45-minute session with strength and conditioning coach Brent Salazar is a light recovery lift. The low-impact workout consists of some movement drills and using foam rollers to work out any kinks.
Once team meetings concluded around 1:30 p.m., Rudolph drove downtown to EXOS, a self-described “human performance company” that is affiliated with the Mayo Clinic. There, he spent an hour “fine-tuning my movement patterns.”
“You can develop compensation patterns because something’s not working because it’s hurting,” Rudolph said. “It’s kind of a boring workout.”
After that, he headed home for a massage, which typically lasts between 90 minutes and two hours. Later on, he and his wife grabbed dinner at Butcher & the Boar.
“I feel way better on Tuesdays than I do on Monday,” Rudolph said. “And I think it’s because of all of the stuff I do on Monday throughout the day.”
Rudolph woke up before 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, typically an off day for players. He shoots for at least eight hours of sleep every night, which can sometimes be a challenge with a pair of 2-month-old twin daughters sleeping in bassinets next to the bed.
“[Sleep] can be overlooked because there are so many medical recovery tools,” he said.
Hydration is critical, too, so Rudolph drinks at least a gallon of water every day.
Around lunchtime Tuesday, he stopped over at Jada Studios at International Market Square for his weekly appointment with Hilary Patzer, the team’s acupuncturist.
After Patzer needled him for a couple of hours, Rudolph, one of the most active Vikings in the community, was off to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital, where he hosted an early holiday meal for young patients and their families.
“Tuesday is a big day for stuff around the community,” he said. “And I start preparing for whoever we play. So that way when I come in Wednesday I’m mentally ahead.”
He did that by sliding his legs into a pair of NormaTec compression boots, which use pulsation to enhance blood flow and speed recovery, while he studied up on the Colts on his team-issued digital tablet. In the background, another Christmas movie was on TV.
Rudolph tries to wear the NormaTec boots for an hour at a time, sometimes twice a night, but “that’s kind of hard with two kids, sitting in my boots for two hours.”
After a day away, Rudolph was back at Winter Park by 6:45. His morning started with heavy weightlifting and a focus on building lower-body strength. The workouts are critical for players to ensure they maintain their playing weight.
“[Salazar] is flexible because each and every week is different [for each individual],” he said. “One week you can feel great and go in and put a bar on your back and squat and press and do what you’ve got to do. Other weeks you can’t grab a bar.”
The rest of his morning included meetings and a walkthrough. After lunch, at 1 p.m., the Vikings held their first practice of the week. Rudolph was a full participant in the 90-minute practice, of course. He has missed only one this season.
After missing 15 games because of injuries in 2013 and 2014, he has played every game the past two years, and in 2016 he has played 92.6 percent of the offensive snaps, tops on the team. He attributes his availability to taking care of his body during the week.
“You play this game long enough, freak things are going to happen. Somebody’s going to fall on your foot and it’s going to break,” he said. “If you can avoid the injuries that are noncontact, soft-tissue, freak things, then you can be out on the field every week.”
Rudolph again beat the sunrise to Winter Park so he could plop his 6-6, 265-pound frame into the tubs. On this morning, he started with the hot and finished with the cold because he spent most of the morning sitting in meetings.
The Vikings switched up their Thursday schedule midway through the season. Now their practices that day begin at 11 a.m., instead of after lunch. Rudolph likes the new schedule because it gives him “more time on the back end for recovery.”
After practice, he headed home for his second and final massage of the week. The two-hour session addressed lingering issues left over from Monday’s massage.
Then it was time to do some Christmas shopping, which is hectic enough this close to the holiday when you’re not a popular and extremely tall professional athlete.
“At all costs we try to avoid the Mall of America,” Rudolph said.
With kickoff a couple of days away, Rudolph slept in until a little bit before 7 a.m. for some additional rest. After morning meetings and an 11 a.m. practice, which the Vikings have dubbed “Fast Friday” because the on-field intensity ramps up, Rudolph lifted weights for about a half-hour.
Finally, he’s feeling like himself again.
Rudolph said the Vikings track him using GPS during games and practices. They told him his average burst this past week was the highest it has been the past two years.
“There’s data backing up the process we’re going through each week,” he said.
His explosiveness has been evident. After catching four passes for 60 yards in Jacksonville, he has already set career highs with 58 catches for 573 yards. And his six touchdowns are his highest total since 2012, when he snagged nine and a Pro Bowl invite.
Friday night, the Rudolphs had friends in town and a neighborhood holiday party to attend. He resisted the urge to devour all of the sweets.
“It becomes harder to resist [snacking] later in the season,” Rudolph said.
Saturday morning will begin — you guessed it — in the hot and cold tubs. Then it will be time for “Donut Club” in the training room. There, he’s back in the NormaTec boots for about a half-hour, up until the first team meeting at 9 a.m.
After the final walk-through, which wraps up around 11:20, he has a 1-on-1 session with Salazar, the strength and conditioning coach, who for 15 minutes will run him through a “low-impact explosiveness workout” to keep his engine revving. Otherwise, Rudolph said, “You can wake up on Sunday and feel like you just don’t have that pop.”
Rudolph will not have to arrive at the team hotel until between 7:30 and 8 on Saturday night. There will be more meetings and a team snack, then another date with a pair of NormaTec boots. He might wear them again first thing Sunday, too; the recovery process is still ongoing hours before the next kickoff.
Sunday morning, Rudolph will have a light gameday breakfast of eggs and maybe a bagel with peanut butter at the team hotel. Then he will board the earliest of the team buses carrying players, coaches and staff to U.S. Bank Stadium.
Less than three hours before kickoff, he is on the field for early warmups to get loose and burn off nervous energy. Afterward, Rudolph will know for sure that his body is ready for another three-hour game filled with high-speed collisions.
So far this season, the reliable tight end has been ready to roll each and every week, thanks to all the work he puts in on any given Monday and the days that follow.
“It’s all about listening to your body and knowing what your body needs,” he said.