Possible Reasons for Red Lights in Powerlifting


Sebastian Padilla

Let's talk about judging criteria, because there's more to it than you think.

“That looked like a good lift to me. I don’t know why they didn’t give it to you!” That's what my dad said when I missed the rack command on my third bench as a new 16-year-old powerlifter.

I’m sure many of you who have seen a video of a powerlifting meet before have seen the three white or red lights that appear after a lift. These lights indicate a good lift (white lights) or not a good lift (red lights). 

In order for a lift to count, you must have 2 out of 3 white lights. The judging criteria vary slightly depending on the federation you compete in, and it is always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the specific federations rulebook. Regardless of federations, there are general guidelines as to what constitutes a good lift and what doesn’t when competing in powerlifting. 


Let’s start with the first lift in a meet: the squat. For a squat to be successfully counted at a meet, you must follow all commands given to you as failure to do so will result in an automatic disqualification. The commands are “SQUAT” and “RACK”. 

The “SQUAT” command permits you to initiate the descent and will only be given to you once you’ve positioned yourself and have control of the bar. Now you descend whenever you are ready and once you’ve stood up with the bar you will hold it in place until the next command. 

The “RACK” command will be given and you now have permission to rack the bar. The most common source of error with both of these commands is skipping any of them. Whether you rush to just start your descent or rush to rack the bar without waiting for commands you will receive 3 red lights.

The second most common source of red lights is not reaching proper squat depth. Now, this is also a somewhat controversial topic in powerlifting as the standard of proper depth varies from federation to federation. 

For most federations breaking parallel or being at parallel will be sufficient. Now both of these depths are close but very different. Parallel in the squat refers to having the top of the knee be level with the crease of the hip and breaking parallel is having the top of the knee higher than the crease of the hip. If you are not able to properly reach either of these will not receive a white light in any federation.  

The third most common source of red lights on the squats is to have “up and down motion” this means that the bar went down on your ascent and then went up again. This “up and down motion” applies to all lifts as once the bar starts moving it can only move either down on your descent (for squats and bench) or up on the ascend.

Bench Press

Moving on to the second lift in a meet, the bench press. This lift has three commands: “START”, “PRESS”, and “RACK”. The “START” command allows you to initiate the descent of the bar. The “PRESS” command permits you to press the weight up, and lastly, the “RACK” command allows you to rack the weight on the combo rack. 

Especially with newer lifters, skipping any of these is a common source of red lights. The second most common source of red lights is having your butt come off the bench. Your butt may move on the bench but it can never fully come out of contact with it.


Lastly, my favorite lift… the deadlift. The deadlift only has one command which is “DOWN”. This command gives your permission to lower the bar after you’ve completed your lift.  If you do not keep your hands on the bar as you return the bar to the floor, you will be given a red light.

Another common source of red lights is “hitching”. This refers to having the bar supported on your quads once it passes the knees. The bar can touch your quads during the lift, but it can’t be supported on them.

This is most commonly seen on conventional deadlifts but is not uncommon with technically incompetent sumo dead lifters.

Now Put it all Together

It goes without saying that if you are unable to complete the lift unassisted you will receive red lights all around. Now that you know the most common source of red lights in squats, bench press, and deadlifts, you can prepare yourself to lift to the standard of most powerlifting federations.

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Alex Gaynor


Sebastian Padilla


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