Background Musculoskeletal problems are common in professional orchestral musicians, and little is known about effective prevention strategies. Exercise is suggested to help in reducing work-related upper limb disorders and accordingly a trial of a specific exercise programme for this population was planned. Formative and process evaluation procedures were undertaken during the development of the programme to ensure high methodological credibility. Methods Literature reviews on exercise interventions for musicians as well as for neck, shoulder, abdominal, lower back and hip/pelvic body regions were undertaken. Current preventative and rehabilitation models were reviewed including undergraduate curriculums, postgraduate training programmes, and opinion from academic and clinical physiotherapists. Five series of progressive exercises were developed as a result. These were reviewed by expert physiotherapists who were blinded to the proposed progression difficulty of the exercises. A revised draft was produced for further review. This final programme was pilot trialed and feedback from the participants and physiotherapist instructors were obtained. Results No evidence-based literature regarding an exercise programme for professional orchestral musicians was found. An exercise programme was subsequently developed with progressive stages that followed an adapted exercise prevention and rehabilitation model. The blinded ranking of each exercise series produced varied results particularly in the abdominal and shoulder series. Feedback from the participants and instructors in the pilot study resulted in changes to the exercise difficulty, and the class format and structure. Conclusions Using available evidence on exercise prescription in collaboration with clinical consensus and current best practice, a specific exercise programme was developed to prevent and/or reduce occupational injuries in professional orchestral musicians.