Family caregivers' physical and emotional well-being may be negatively impacted while in the caregiver role. Interventions to support caregiver health have largely focused on psychological support, with only a few studies to date evaluating the role of exercise. Of the exercise studies conducted, there has been one qualitative study examining caregivers' perspectives on the value and impact of this type of intervention. This qualitative study was part of a larger mixed methods investigation including a randomised controlled trial investigating the effects of a 24-week exercise programme for cancer caregivers conducted in western Canada. We aimed to explore cancer family caregivers' experience of participating in a structured exercise programme. We conducted face-to-face interviews with 20 of the participants from the exercise intervention and analysed transcribed data using Thorne's interpretive description as a guiding framework. Two main patterns characterised the experiences of the caregivers. The metaphor of a downward spiral represented the experience of being in the caregiver role, while the metaphor of an upward spiral represented the experience of participating in the exercise programme. Our findings highlight that caregivers valued the exercise programme, experienced positivity through exercise and the group-based format, and noticed improvements to their physical and emotional well-being.; © 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.