By Dell Smith
Dee Dee Ninemire started lifting weights, as she says, “before lifting was cool”.
“I started lifting while on the swim team in high school,” she says, “as part of swim training. I got more serious about the weights in college, which was still somewhat taboo for women.”
Today, years later, Ninemire is the director of the SPC Physical Fitness Center at South Plains College. And you often find her in the weight room. She says it’s not just something she does on the weekends. It seems to be part of who she is, and she says it is time well spent.
But statistically, not a lot of women lift weights.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2012 statistics show only about 20 percent of women meet the CDC’s aerobic and strength training recommendations. That leaves some 80 percent who don’t.
One reason why might be because of social stigma or the “taboo” Ninemire mentions. For a long time, weight lifting was just not considered a feminine thing to do.
“Growing up,” Ninemire says, “I can’t tell you how many times my mother said, ‘You don’t need to be lifting all those weights…your legs are going to get big.’ Well, now women want big legs and want big butts.”
Ninemire says lifting weights or strength training “empowers” her.
“But it’s empowered me as far as one of the best qualities,” she says, “or best reasons to lift and to continue lifting, is that it helps you maintain your independence.”
As proof of her independence, Ninemire says she can do things like lift furniture.
“You know, I don’t have to hire somebody to come do a lot of things that other people my age would have to do,” she says.
A sense of empowerment or independence may not be the only mental health benefits that come from strength training.
A January 2023 article in Verywellfit.com, a site that says its mission is to empower people to reach their nutrition and fitness goals, lists five mental health benefits of strength training:
- Improves mood
- Strengthens mind-body connection
- Lowers stress and anxiety
- Boosts brain health, and
- Improves relationship with your body
Ara Baten, SPC’s head women’s basketball coach, teaches a class specifically for female weightlifting and requires all his players to take it. In class, his students do anywhere from four to seven upper body lifts and lower body lifts. And at least three days a week they do core exercises.
“Working on things that improve performance strength, endurance, flexibility, core strength those kinds of things help us with performance,” he says, “and they also help with injury prevention.”
Both Baten and Ninemire believe the cultural stigma that weightlifting is only for men has died out.
“Over the years, that stigma is gone,” Baten says, “and that’s not just in athletics. That is cultural, with CrossFit and those kinds of things, being strong, being physical, being in shape, there is no stigma attached to that anymore. However, many years ago, we would have athletes that, well, they were concerned about that.”
Baten says that when he coaches teams he sees all of his players as athletes, and it doesn’t matter if they are men or women.
“They are high performance, high achieving people,” he says, “and they deserve to be respected and treated that way.”
Ninemire says she wishes she was 25 again because when she started weightlifting it was not as accepted as it is now. She says back in her high school days girls were not supposed to be stronger than boys. She describes a male friend in high school who wouldn’t leave her alone until she arm-wrestled him.
“Well… I beat him and he stopped talking to me,” she said while laughing. “Made me sad, but he started it.”
Ninemire’s interest in strength training appears to have grown stronger since college. She says she doesn’t lift now with the goal of going heavy.
“While I enjoy the challenge, I do it more for general fitness and health,” she says.
Her advice for women is don’t be afraid of the weight room for fear of losing femininity.
“I see it every single semester,” she says. “When I see shy, timid women go in there, and when you feel stronger in your body, you feel stronger in your mind, you know. You feel confident in yourself when you feel strong.”
In the end, she says she sees students go into the weight room at SPC who’ve never been physical before. Then, she says they “blossom” into self-confident, power people.