Background: The waiting period for coronary artery bypass surgery is a difficult time for patients and families. Pre-operative cardiac rehabilitation may be safe and effective, but there is limited evidence regarding patients' experience and perceptions of such intervention. Aim: To describe patients' experiences of a pre-operative programme of cardiac rehabilitation developed specifically for those awaiting coronary artery bypass surgery. Method: A convenience sample of eight patients awaiting non-urgent surgery who had completed a 12 week pilot programme of cardiac rehabilitation were invited to be interviewed using a descriptive phenomenological approach. Domicillary interviews using an open technique were taped, transcribed and analysed using Colaizzi's framework. Results: Participants described this programme as a useful means of improving exercise capacity and decreasing anxiety. Through the combination of exercise, advice and support participants stated that their initial fear that exercise would cause a heart attack was replaced with confidence, enabling them to become fitter and modify other risk factors. Conclusions: Findings of this study suggest that the programme was acceptable and perceived as beneficial by participants. Further research is required to evaluate the efficacy of pre-operative rehabilitation on risk factor modification.