Seal-Bin Han ’17, a self-described “scrawny, nerdy kid,” came back from Johns Hopkins’ Ralph S. O’Connor Recreation Center one night last semester feeling down. “It’s a culture,” he says of the gym. “I didn’t know how to use the equipment, and people looked at me funny when I went to the weight room.”
Stopping by a friend’s room in his dorm after he returned from the gym that night, Han remembers, the two chatted about how there had to be a solution for eager but ignorant gymgoers like them who were hesitant to pay the often expensive costs of personal training. That solution has now materialized in a company Han and his colleagues launched in September 2014 called ShapeU.
ShapeU matches hopeful fitness buffs—who can either sign up alone or with friends— with personal trainers for group fitness sessions. Because the trainer is guaranteed sessions with groups ranging from three to five exercisers with similar fitness goals, the cost of personal training drops to just a few dollars per session, greatly increasing the number of people who can afford this service.
ShapeU will also benefit the gyms that use it and pay to access the online platform, Han explains. Although the vast majority of gyms have a poor retention rate, with nearly half their members dropping out within six months, the program has retained nearly 100 percent of attendees over the several months that it’s been operating at Johns Hopkins.
Han and his student colleagues will be expanding soon to Planet Fitness, Brick Bodies, and Merritt Athletic Clubs, some of the largest fitness chains in the Baltimore area. Johns Hopkins’ Weight Management Center also has expressed an interest in using ShapeU for organizing group sessions linking nutritionists with groups of individuals who have similar weight-loss goals.
“By making the group model accessible to almost everyone,” Han says, “we’re making sure that the people who need it can get it.”
Han has a history of finding answers to problems he discovers. In 2014, he received the Young Global Leader Award from the J. Luce Foundation for creating the World Youth Initiative, an organization that funds students around the world to start charity projects in their communities.