OBJECTIVE: To investigate and summarize participant experience of exercise programmes for non-specific chronic low back pain and the effects of these experiences on exercise participation and engagement. SUBJECTS: Three groups of six adults (>18 years) who speak, read and understand English and who had participated in an exercise programme for non-specific chronic low back pain. METHOD: Qualitative research methods were used and three focus groups were conducted by an experienced facilitator. Each group was guided with a set of pre-determined questions and participants were encouraged to give personal opinions. Transcribed data were read independently by two researchers and analysed thematically according to Grounded Theory. RESULTS: Preference for partnership in care emerged as a significant theme from all focus group transcripts. The following subthemes emerged: (1) engagement with the health care process; (2) 'listen to me; I know my own body'; (3) 'tell me: explain it to me'. People with non-specific chronic low back pain want an active role in their rehabilitation. They expressed anger and frustration at not being listened to, not being provided with adequate explanations and education and not being given credit for knowing their own bodies. Tension existed between patients' wanting a genuine voice in the partnership and them wanting a care-provider to give explicit diagnosis and best management instruction. CONCLUSION: A gap exists between care-seeker experiences of, and preferences for, exercise programmes for back pain. Care-seekers consider that care-providers should adopt a willingness to listen and consider care-seeker's experiences when designing exercise programmes.