Referee Light System in Powerlifting Explained

Powerlifting is an exciting sport. For a long period, I followed bodybuilding religiously. From Olympia press conferences to the after-show interviews with top coaches on their opinions about the show. I fanboyed and watched it all. But it all changed the day when I first came across an Animal Cage video on Youtube. I was left wonderstruck by the end of that video and only one word ‘Badass’ describes that video for me. The sport of powerlifting was so enthralling for me during that time. It was all big dudes with flowing beards lifting heavy a** weights. When I had licked up all the content relating to animal cage and bosses of the bosses, I took a drive at the more professional side of the sport where there were weight classes, rigid rules, various records in every class and people without beards.

My perception of the sport took a little mending but the essence of the sport gained more respect from my side. I was more inspired by the people from lower weight classes lifting pretty heavy weight. I started to follow powerlifting religiously alongside bodybuilding. To this date, I follow it alongside many more strength and fitness related sports. When I first watched a live stream of the IPF, I noticed after every attempt from any powerlifter the camera focused on three lights. At first, my reaction was a confused one but by the midway of that stream I understood the importance of the lights. So what do the lights mean in powerlifting?

In Powerlifting, three referee/judges are there to decide whether a lift is good or bad. The light panel indicates each judge’s decision about the lift. The white light indicates the lift was good and qualifies. On the other another hand, the red light indicates the lift was bad and does not qualify. Because there are three judges it can never be a tie on a decision. One side of the decision will always outweigh the other. Whether the lift qualifies as a good lift or a bad lift depends wholly on the decision made by the judges based on the rules as prescribed by the federation which held the competition.

There are 4 possible outcomes on a light panel after the powerlifter has attempted a lift. Let’s take a look at these 4 light combination on the panel after the judges have judged a particular lift performed by the powerlifter.

what does the three lights in powerlifting mean?

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4 possible result outcomes after a lift

3 White Lights

3 white lights powerlifting

3 white lights on the light panel after the powerlifter’s attempt at the specific lift in question qualifies as a ‘good and legal lift’ from all the three judges. Translating in it in the format of marks it basically indicates 3 out of 3 marks. Pointing out it as perfect. In this case, the lift counts.


2 White Lights, 1 Red Light

2 white lights and 1 red light powerlifting

2 white lights and 1 red light on the light panel after the powerlifter’s attempt at the specific lift in question qualifies as an overall ‘good and legal lift’. With 2 judges for it and 1 judge against it. The good side outweighs the one bad decision here. Translating in it in the format of marks it basically indicates 2 out of 3 marks. Pointing it out as good. In this case, the lift counts.


1 White Light, 2 Red Lights

1 white light and 2 red lights in powerlifting

1 white light and 2 red lights on the light panel after the powerlifter’s attempt at the specific lift in question qualifies as an overall ‘bad and illicit lift’. With 2 judges against it and 1 judge for it. The bad side outweighs the one good decision here. Translating in it in the format of marks it basically indicates 1 out of 3 marks. Pointing it out as bad. In this case, the lift does not count.


3 Red Lights

3 red lights in powerlifting

3 red light on the light panel after the powerlifter’s attempt at the specific lift in question qualifies as a ‘bad and illicit lift’ from all the three judges. Translating in it in the format of marks it basically indicates 0 out of 3 marks. Pointing out it as a fail, at the attempt. In this case, the lift does not count.

Now that you’ve been equipped with the knowledge of the referee light system in the sport of powerlifting, you can enjoy the sport better. If you’re a future competitor who was looking for refining their knowledge of the sport before stepping up on the stage, all the best! If you’re a fan of the sport and was looking for an answer to the question of what do the lights mean in powerlifting. We hope your confusion has been erased so you can watch and enjoy the sport better.

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