You've probably seen women in the gym with beautifully lean arms that are just muscular enough to make them look incredibly toned but still feminine and sexy. You've also likely seen women who look like they can use kitchen appliances as appropriate weight for their initial set of overhead shoulder presses. The difference between the toned appearance of one woman's arms and the bulky appearance of another woman's arms, though certainly genetically influenced, is a result of what they put into their bodies and how much energy and effort they put out.
Your genetic makeup certainly influences how you look. You may be grateful to have genes for a height that's more forgiving when you unintentionally gain 5 pounds, or maybe you resent a large body frame, which makes you appear heavier than you really are. Your genes also play a role in how your muscles appear and how big your muscles can get. While some muscles appear toned and others appear bulky, there's actually no difference in the muscle itself. The difference in appearance is usually less about genetics and more about what you do.
Amount of Muscle
Strength training builds muscle. The amount of muscle you build will help determine how your muscles appear. When you begin a strength-training routine of two to three 30-minute sessions per week, you'll begin to see strides in strength in just a few weeks. If you train more and lift more, you'll likely gain more muscle. A woman who gains 20 pounds of muscle will appear muscular and bulkier than another woman her same weight, height and genetic makeup who only gains 10 pounds of muscle.
Amount of Fat
When you have a high body fat percentage, your muscles will not look as toned and defined as they would if your body fat percentage were lower. When fat covers your muscle, you have a bulkier appearance. Make sure you include 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three to five days a week in your routine to work toward and maintain a healthy ratio of fat to muscle. This number varies with age. Also make healthful food choices so you're feeding your muscles what they need to successfully complete workouts, and what will help them recover and grow stronger afterward.
Drinking water is an important part of the muscle-building process. A change in body water percentage can hinder your strength-training performance and negatively affect your recovery. Drinking water while you refuel with nutritious foods after you train will also help make sure those nutrients get properly absorbed. When you drink plenty of water, you also keep your system flushed out, eliminating the bloated, bulky appearance that is often a result of salt-influenced water retention.
Mary Marcia Brown has worked in the health and fitness industry for more than 15 years. A writer and runner with road race directorship experience, Brown has been published in "Running Journal," "Florida Running & Triathlon" and "Outreach NC."