Mechanical properties of very soft tissues, such as brain, liver, kidney and prostate have recently joined the mainstream research topics in biomechanics. This has happened in spite of the fact that these tissues do not bear mechanical loads. The interest in the biomechanics of very soft tissues has been motivated by the developments in computer-integrated and robot-aided surgery-in particular, the emergence of automatic surgical tools and robots-as well as advances in virtual reality techniques. Mechanical testing of very soft tissues provides a formidable challenge for an experimenter. Very soft tissues are usually tested in compression using an unconfined compression set-up, which requires ascertaining that friction between sample faces and stress-strain machine platens is close to zero. In this paper a more reliable method of testing is proposed. In the proposed method top and bottom faces of a cylindrical specimen with low aspect ratio are rigidly attached to the platens of the stress-strain machine (e.g. using surgical glue). This arrangement allows using a no-slip boundary condition in the analysis of the results. Even though the state of deformation in the sample cannot be treated as orthogonal the relationships between total change of height (measured) and strain are obtained. Two important results are derived: (i) deformed shape of a cylindrical sample subjected to uniaxial compression is independent on the form of constitutive law, (ii) vertical extension in the plane of symmetry lambda(z) is proportional to the total change of height for strains as large as 30%. The importance and relevance of these results to testing procedures in biomechanics are highlighted. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.