The sport of powerlifting requires you to compete in three exercises — the squat, bench press and deadlift. To succeed in powerlifting, you need to train hard in all three lifts, and get progressively stronger in your training. While powerlifting can be very rewarding, and has many health and social benefits, it is not as easy to get into as many mainstream sports, so it is vital that you start out in the right way.
Join a powerlifting or weightlifting gym. If you don't currently train, or you are a member of a commercial health club, you may have some misconceptions about powerlifting. While specialist powerlifting gyms can be difficult to find, there should be one in your area. According to Craig McGuigan, an elite powerlifter and owner of Eastside Barbell Club in New Zealand, any gym you join should have at least power racks, Olympic barbells and weights, a bench press, a deadlift platform, and permit the use of chalk. Get to know more experienced lifters, ask them for advice and make sure you build some training experience.
Train using a powerlifting-specific routine. Most people who lift weights regularly are used to bodybuilding-based routines, where the focus is on lighter weights and higher repetitions to increase muscle mass. Powerlifting routines, however, should be based around low-repetition training of the squat, bench press and deadlift, with some easier, high-rep accessory work added in — provided that it doesn't sap your strength in the big three exercises. Jim Wendler's 5/3/1 training philosophy and Louie Simmons' Westside template are both tried and tested powerlifting routines you may wish to try.
Decide on which federation you would like to lift in. According to the Powerlifting Watch website, there are more than 30 different powerlifting federations in the United States. All have different rules and allow the use of different equipment — raw federations, for example, only allow the use of lifting belts and knee wraps, while full-gear federations allow you to wear squat and deadlift suits or bench-press shirts during competition. As a beginner, it is a better idea to lift raw for your first couple of years, then decide whether you wish to lift in gear or not.
Take part in a competition. Your first few competitions should be used as a learning experience. There are certain commands for each lift you must learn beforehand, because not following the judges' calls can cause you to fail a lift on a technicality. Get adequate rest before competition, and don't go out of your comfort zone or resort to unsafe weight practices to make a certain weight class. Your first few competitions will be difficult enough without you employing drastic weight-cutting strategies. Once you are used to competition situations, look for meets where you may have a chance of winning, or at least placing among the top competitors.