This article focuses on the uniaxial compressive strength (UCS) of homogeneous and heterogeneous rocks. Critical factors impacting the UCS of rocks are reviewed and then separate assessments of UCS data from homogeneous and heterogeneous rocks are presented. The variability (coefficient of variation) of UCS test results for homogeneous rocks is found to be generally <25% while for heterogeneous rocks the variability is >35%. Failure mode variation is found to be the cause of the variability of UCS test results in heterogeneous rocks. Empirical engineering design methods that use UCS as an input parameter are discussed and suggestions are provided for selecting appropriate UCS values.


The UCS is one of the most commonly used rock engineering parameters whether for rock mass classification or for strength determination. The mean UCS and its variability are often assumed to represent a reliable rock material property. For the reasons discussed in this article, UCS is rarely representative of the intact rock UCS. The UCS test simply records the collapse load during uniaxial loading of a cylindrical specimen. As suggested by many, the UCS is an index rather than a unique engineering parameter. The UCS is thus a proxy for rock strength which depends on the loading rate (e.g., Bieniawski 1967), specimen geometry (e.g., Hudson et al., 1971), specimen size (e.g., Bieniawski 1968), and many other factors. Furthermore, the UCS is not the same as the Hoek-Brown strength criterion parameter σci.

There are differences in opinion on what is commonly considered to be ‘intact rock’. When sampling ‘intact’ pieces of core from drillholes crossing blocks of rock bound by block forming discontinuities, samples will be ‘intact’ but some samples will be veined, others will be damaged, and others will be neither. According to Hoek (1983), intact rock pieces are "the unfractured blocks occurring between structural discontinuities in a typical rock mass" and the σci parameter for intact rock is determined using the fitting procedure proposed by Hoek and Brown (1997) based on the data requirements outlined by Hoek (1983). Studies (e.g., Bewick and Kaiser 2014; Kaiser and Kim 2014) have shown that independently determined UCS and σci values for the same rock type are not equivalent. Thus, UCS data cannot be used as a replacement for σci.

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